A 29-year-old man has been found guilty of threatening to kill loyalist activist Jamie Bryson.
Brian Smith, with an address on the Cliftonville Road in north Belfast, was originally charged with having issued the threats over four days between the July 11 and 12 of last year.
Smith had pleaded not guilty to the offences which included making threats to kill, threats to damage properly and harassment of the north Down loyalist.
The charges were later amended to include further dates between July 11 and 23, 2021.
Appearing at Newtownards Magistrates Court yesterday, Smith made admissions to the harassment charge. However, his defence argued that the charges of making threats to kill and threats to damage property should be encompassed in the one offence.
The court was told the defendant had threatened to petrol bomb two properties linked to Mr Bryson, “and without lawful excuse” threatened to kill the prominent loyalist along with other harassing messages.
He also threatened the loyalist with a senior north Belfast republican — although there is no suggestion that person had any knowledge of the alleged threats.
Smith was arrested and charged in a high-profile PSNI operation in which heavily armed officers raided a properly in north Belfast in July last year.
The court was told that among the messages sent via Facebook the defendant also threatened to petrol bomb Mr Bryson’s mother’s home.
Mr Bryson attended the court and was called to give evidence.
He said the messages caused him “significant distress and fear” adding that they “put me in fear of my life”.
He added that some of the messages “referenced the IRA”.
“They escalated to then issuing threats to family members. I have a young child often staying in the house with me so that put my child in danger as well.
“I was concerned the threats would be carried out.”
The defendant’s defence lawyer said while there was no dispute that Smith sent the messages, there was an overlap in the charges, with it all covered in the harassment offence he had agreed to plead guilty to.
However, District Judge Mark Hamill disagreed saying: “There might be some overlap, but if I said, ‘I’m going to kill you’ and then say ‘I’m going to burn your mother’s house down’ … it’s three separate offences, it’s crystal clear.”
Finding him guilty of all three offences Judge Hamill told Smith to engage with probation with the case put back until March 16 for sentencing.
Speaking after the conviction, Mr Bryson said: “I welcome that another person has been convicted for serious and sustained abuse and threats directed towards me.
“To their credit, the PSNI pursued this individual swiftly via their specialist team dealing with threats to journalists and public figures, and I welcome their robust action.
“This case involves serious threats, and the perpetrator signed off his remarks by reference to the IRA. That is particularly egregious. I trust that when it comes to sentencing that the court will send a clear deterrent message reflective of the seriousness of this.
“The message should be very clear; it is all fun and games acting the big man on social media for likes and retweets and to impress friends, not so clever when you are standing in court pleading in mitigation to avoid a custodial sentence.
“I trust Mr Smith will have learnt his lesson from this experience.”