Ballymena butcher guilty of assault on protesting vegan
A judge has convicted a Ballymena butcher of assaulting a vegan outside his shop, claiming the defendant "fell into a trap" set by protesters.
Last year a group called Direct Action Everywhere Northern Ireland entered butchers' in the town chanting slogans such as: "It's not food, it's violence."
The protester who was assaulted told the court he had been "speaking up for animals", adding: "We are the voice of the animals."
The placard-carrying campaigners also picketed meat shops and one shot a video of the demonstration, which was widely viewed on social media.
At one stage the protesters went to a shop at Greenvale Street, entered and filmed their actions.
A short time later butcher Peter McAtamney (44), whose address was given as Greenvale Street, came out and was in turn photographing the protesters when he struck out towards Sean Allen.
Mr Allen reported the matter to police and McAtamney was taken to court charged with common assault arising out of the incident on March 25 last year.
He had pleaded not guilty, but after a contest in Ballymena Magistrates Court yesterday he was found guilty, before being given an absolute discharge by District Judge Peter King.
The defendant claimed in court he was acting in self-defence and had perceived that Mr Allen had moved towards him.
Mr Allen denied that, and said he was moving to get "a better camera angle". Mr Allen told the court he was one of around half-a-dozen protesters, some with placards and one with a loudhailer, chanting: "It's not food, it's violence."
He said he was videoing the event when the butcher approached him and came close to his face to photograph him.
Mr Allen said he was holding his own camera close to his eye when it was struck, causing the device to spin around and hit his face.
He confirmed he had been in the butcher's shop a few moments earlier as part of a 'speak out', when an activist read a prepared speech.
He said the video he shot of the day's activities got "hundreds of thousands" of views on social media. He said most people walked past them peacefully but there were a "few loose cannons".
He added the aim of the protest was to get the public to see that animals were suffering and "they don't need to eat them".
Mr Allen said it was a peaceful demonstration, and denied assertions by defence barrister Neil Moore that they were acting in an anti-social manner or doing something that could lead to a breach of the peace.
Mr Moore claimed the protesters were "scaring children".
Taking the stand, McAtamney said he worked for his family business with his father and brother. He said customers were not pleased when the protesters came into the shop and they were then asked to leave.
He said he decided to take photos of the protesters as they were taking pictures and videoing.
He claimed that outside the shop Mr Allen was coming towards him and "I just put my hand up to defend myself. I didn't know what was going to happen because I had never been in this position before".
"They had been quite aggressive in their protests and I just put my hand out to protect myself," he added.
He admitted he was not pleased that the group had been taking pictures in the shop.
Prosecution barrister James Brady suggested the defendant had felt angry at Mr Allen taking photographs and had struck the camera deliberately.
Mr Moore claimed the protesters had made a video of the violent incidents that day as that "puts bums on seats".
Judge King said it was important to put the matter in context of what was happening.
He said everybody had a right to protest but he believed that this one was being held not just to get a message across, but was "designed to get a reaction".
The judge said "the absolutely best result" for the protesters would have been for a butcher to assault one of them. He said it was quite clear from a video that McAtamney's hand struck Mr Allen's camera as part of its trajectory.
Convicting the defendant, Judge King added: "I don't think it was a case of self-defence. I think Mr McAtamney fell into a trap and reacted in such a way that has attracted some criminal culpability."