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Bandsman wins appeal over jail term for playing 'Sash'

Published 12/02/2014




A FLUTE bandsman won his appeal yesterday against being jailed for playing The Sash outside a Catholic Church in Belfast.

Thomas Beresford's three-month prison sentence was reduced to a one-year conditional discharge.

He was the first loyalist bandsman to be jailed for breaching a Parades Commission ruling.

There was an outcry from unionist politicians in December when he was sentenced.

DUP minister Nelson Mc-Causland describing the jail term as "draconian".

A Belfast County Court Judge ruled that ordering the 21-year-old to serve time behind bars had been too severe.

Beresford, of Strathearn Court, Holywood, Co Down, was convicted of knowingly breaching a ban on playing non-sacred music during part of an Ulster Covenant centenary parade.

The bass drummer was identified in footage of Holywood True Blues marching past St Matthew's Church on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast on September 29 2012.

Another band member, Stephen Walker (28) of Church Green, Holywood, was also convicted of defying the Parades Commission determination.

He received a three-month suspended jail term for the offence.

Beresford claimed he had not seen flashing warning signs on the prohibited section of the parade as he played with his head "buried" forward.

But a judge held that footage of the parade showed him "enthusiastically playing the bass drum, gesturing to the crowd and looking straight ahead of him".

Her decision last December to sentence Beresford to three months in jail provoked an outcry among some unionists.

Beresford, who was on bail pending the outcome of his appeal, attended Belfast County Court for the hearing.

His legal team abandoned a planned bid to have his conviction overturned.

But challenging the sentence, barrister Richard McConkey, instructed by Holmes and Moffitt solicitors, argued that it was excessive and unnecessary.

Judge Denise Kennedy agreed that it had been too heavy, pointing to Beresford's clear record.

Ruling that he should instead be given a 12-month conditional discharge, she said imposing custody had been too severe in the circumstances.