'Naive' Belgian spared prison by judge after admitting west Belfast riot charge
A Belgian national who threw two items at police Land Rovers parked at a peace line in west Belfast narrowly avoided being sent to jail after a judge ruled him "unfamiliar with the nuances and undertones of Northern Ireland's society".
Michael Cant, who at the time of the riot was living on the Springfield Road in Belfast, was handed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after he admitted a single charge of rioting on July 12 this year.
The 28-year old, who now lives at Blair Atholl Grove in the Hamilton area of Scotland, was captured on CCTV as part of a crowd of young people who gathered on the Springfield Road. He remained in the area for around half-an-hour, and whilst he spent a majority of the time watching others engage in public disorder, he was seen approaching police vehicles parked at Lanark Way.
He was seen throwing two pieces of masonry at the police vehicles, as well as bending the wing mirror of a PSNI Land Rover.
Outlining the case against Cant, a Crown prosecutor said that a crowd of around 100 young people gathered on the Springfield Road adjacent to the gates. Police vehicles parked at the gates were subjected to a "prolonged attack from the crowd".
The prosecutor said that whilst the riot was serious, other vehicles using the Springfield Road were able to proceed as there was nothing blocking the road. He also told the court Cant stood out as he was older than the rest of the crowd, who were mostly teenagers.
It was also pointed out to Judge Patricia Smyth that when he approached the police vehicle, unlike his fellow rioters, Cant made no attempt to disguise his face - and instead "casually" walked up with his jacket slung over his arm.
He was arrested a short time later and immediately admitted his guilt. He also said he had been drinking locally, telling police: "I saw the crowd, I was curious and I wanted to see what was going on."
When he was shown the footage of his involvement, Cant became upset. This, the prosecutor said, was an indication that Cant had "no comprehension of quite how serious his behaviour was".
The court also heard that Cant's case was "quite unlike a majority of cases of this ilk".
Telling the court he suspected Cant was "the first Belgian rioter before the courts", defence barrister Paul Bacon said his client was totally remorseful for his actions.
Mr Bacon said that prior to the riot his client had "fallen in with some people" at a local bar where Jagermeister shots were consumed. In the bar, Cant was told he was going to go and watch an 11th night bonfire - something which Mr Bacon said was "never going to happen" given the area.
Cant "naively" went along with the crowd and when the trouble flared, Mr Bacon said Cant had "absolutely no concept of what he was doing or what he was involving himself in".
Pointing out that Cant had no criminal record, Mr Bacon described him as a man with a good working history who "will never come before the courts again".
Judge Smyth said she accepted Cant was remorseful. She also accepted that Cant "had little understanding of the cultural and political undertones associated with the 12th of July in Belfast".
She said: "I am satisfied that you are clearly unfamiliar with the nuances and undertones of Northern Ireland's society, and you were caught up in events that you didn't fully understand."