Belfast Telegraph

North Belfast rioter who kicked and punched police handed prison term

By John Cassidy

A north Belfast man has been handed a two-and-a-half year prison sentence for what a judge described as his "full and active part" in a riot during an anti-internment parade last summer.

John Joseph Burns (24), of Rosapenna Street, had pleaded guilty to charges of rioting on August 9, 2015, and causing criminal damage to a PSNI Land Rover on the same date.

The father of one was told by Judge Gordon Kerr QC that he will spend 15 months in custody and a further 15 months on licence following his release.

Prosecutor Simon Jenkins told Belfast Crown Court that "violent disorder" erupted at Rosapenna Street during an anti-internment parade. "Police came under sustained attack from people throwing masonry, bottles and petrol bombs and nine police officers were injured during the violence. A water cannon had to be deployed," said Mr Jenkins. "Riot police on foot were kicked and punched by rioters."

The court heard that Burns was captured on CCTV footage rioting at various times during a period of around an hour and a half. "He was seen on the footage throwing a number of missiles and masonry in the middle of the road and was captured punching and kicking at police and their shields before walking into his home address at Rosapenna Street. He was also seen damaging a wing mirror on a police Land Rover."

Judge Kerr QC was told that Burns was arrested on September 25 last year and during police interviews he denied rioting and claimed he had "never left his garden" during the public disorder.

"When the footage was shown to him he replied 'no comment' to police questions."

Mr Jenkins added that Burns had 24 previous convictions including one for theft during which he threatened the life of a security guard at a sports store.

Defence barrister Sean O'Hare said that by his guilty plea Burns "accepts his responsibility" for his actions on the day.

"The defendant was not part of the parade protest as he was a resident of Rosapenna Street."

He added that Burns had consumed alcohol on the day and said he had ongoing mental health issues, had suffered a recent family bereavement, and was now a full-time carer for his three-year-old child after the child's mother and his former partner had to leave the area following a threat to her life.

Judge Kerr QC told Burns: "Your role in this was to stay at the scene for a period of one hour and 30 minutes and you were seen on CCTV throwing masonry and missiles, punching and kicking at police officers and attacking one of their Land Rovers. You played a very full and active part in this rioting."

Taking the starting point for his sentence as four years, Judge Kerr said that he could only give Burns a discount of 25% for his guilty plea as he had been "literally caught red handed'' on CCTV.

"I consider the appropriate sentence is one of 30 months for riotous assembly, with 15 months in custody and 15 months on licence.

"There will be a six month concurrent sentence for criminal damage," added the judge.

Belfast Telegraph

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