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Rioter ‘mistook’ petrol bombs for a bag of booze after drinking 12 cans of lager

Man travelled to flashpoint after watching Facebook footage

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Jonathan Maitland

Jonathan Maitland

Jonathan Maitland

A man who claimed he picked up a bag of petrol bombs thinking it was alcohol has admitted rioting at a peaceline.

Jonathan Maitland drank 12 cans of Harp before going to the scene of the rioting after watching footage of Facebook, Belfast Crown Court heard.

The 25-year-old pleaded guilty to three charges after taking part in violent sectarian clashes in the city in April last year.

He was arrested during rioting at the peaceline at Lanark Way near the Shankill Road in the west of the city.

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Loyalists and nationalists hurled petrol bombs over the peaceline at Lanark Way during the rioting in west Belfast last April

Loyalists and nationalists hurled petrol bombs over the peaceline at Lanark Way during the rioting in west Belfast last April

Loyalists and nationalists hurled petrol bombs over the peaceline at Lanark Way during the rioting in west Belfast last April

Trouble had flared following a loyalist protest against the Irish Sea border with violence on both sides of the peaceline. Maitland was arrested on the loyalist side of the flashpoint.

Maitland, of Avoca Street in north Belfast, was charged with riotous assembly, aiding and abetting the throwing of a petrol bomb and to possessing petrol bombs in suspicious circumstances, all on April 8.

During a hearing at the city’s crown court on Tuesday, Maitland pleaded guilty to the charges of riotous assembly and aiding and abetting the throwing of petrol bombs.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge of possession of petrol bombs and the judge agreed to have it left on the books.

The case was adjourned until February 25 for sentencing with a pre-sentence report ordered and Maitland was released on continuing bail.

When Maitland first appeared before the city’s magistrates court on the charges on April 10 last year, his solicitor told the hearing that he provided police with a full account of his whereabouts until 10.45pm on the night of the alleged offences, including alibi witnesses.

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The remains of burnt out bus which was set alight during the violent disturbances

The remains of burnt out bus which was set alight during the violent disturbances

The remains of burnt out bus which was set alight during the violent disturbances

The lawyer said Maitland was arrested at 11.05pm and given his house is 15 minutes from the scene, that would give him a “very short window of involvement”.

He said Maitland claimed he travelled to the scene after seeing footage of the rioting on Facebook and having consumed 12 cans of Harp lager.

The lawyer explained that Maitland went there with another man and CCTV footage from the scene shows him picking up a Russell Cellars bag which he thought might contain alcohol.

Maitland saw what was in it but he was then approached by a man wearing a balaclava who asked, “Are you going to do anything with that?”

He said he wasn’t and the man took it from him, adding that Maitland wasn’t seen throwing anything and could be seen walking away before police rushed forward and arrested a number of people.

He explained Maitland required an appropriate adult during police interview and had been “deeply affected” by his time in custody.

The rioting in west Belfast was part of a string of violent clashes that broke out in towns and cities across Northern Ireland at the end of March and beginning of April.

It left 90 police officers injured and at one stage water cannon had to be deployed to quell the mobs. Loyalist paramilitaries were blamed for instigating the violence under the cover of it being a protest about the Irish Sea border.

The clashes also came after the decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute senior Sinn Fein politicians for alleged Covid breaches during the funeral of IRA chief Bobby Storey.

But at the time the Loyalist Community Council (LCC) — an umbrella group which includes UVF and UDA leaders — insisted that none of its associated organisations “have been involved either directly or indirectly in the violence witnessed in recent days”.


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