A self-proclaimed counter-jihadist is to deny allegations of inciting hatred at a rally in Belfast, a court heard yesterday.
A lawyer for John Richard Banks (60) confirmed his client will be pleading not guilty to charges connected to a speech he gave along with the leaders of far-right group Britain First.
Banks, of Acacia Road in Doncaster, south Yorkshire, is the fourth person to be prosecuted over the demonstration last summer. He faces two counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting words. He is alleged to have intended to stir up hatred or arouse fear by his comments, according to the police case.
He was arrested last month, transferred to Northern Ireland and charged by PSNI detectives.
Appearing for the first time at Belfast Magistrates Court, Banks spoke only to confirm that he understood the allegations against him. The case relates to speeches made at a 'Northern Ireland Against Terrorism' rally outside City Hall on August 6 last year.
Demonstrators had gathered on the same day as a republican march organised to mark the use of internment without trial by the authorities at the height of the Troubles in 1971. Similar charges have also been brought against Britain First leader Paul Golding (35), his 31-year-old deputy Jayda Fransen, and Paul Rimmer (55), of Modred Street in Liverpool.
They also deny the allegations and are expected to stand trial together in April.
In court yesterday Banks' solicitor Jonathan Burke of McConnell Kelly said: "My instructions are that he is pleading not guilty to the charges."
Listing the case for a further review next week, District Judge Fiona Bagnall excused the accused from travelling back to attend that hearing. Outside court Banks confirmed he is a member of Britain First and said: "I'm a counter- jihadist." He added: "Free speech in this country is dead, it's treated as though it's hate speech."