Northern Ireland news

Jamie Bryson hits out at band's St Patrick's Church prosecutions

Jamie Bryson pictured taking part in an Easter Monday Apprentice Boys parade last year. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

High-profile loyalist Jamie Bryson has hit out after four members of his flute band were fined £250 for deliberately breaching a ban on playing tunes outside a Catholic church.

A judge was told Bangor Protestant Boys had defied the restriction in a conscious act of protest against the Parades Commission.

The body had ruled that only a single drum beat could be played as bands passed St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast city centre during an Apprentice Boys demonstration in August last year.

The church became a parading flashpoint after the Shankill-based Young Conway Volunteers band was filmed walking in circles outside the building while playing the Famine Song in July 2012.

Thirteen members were later convicted of performing a provocative act, but successfully appealed the convictions after agreeing to be bound over to keep the peace.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard on Wesnesday that police had erected large signs to warn bands of restrictions imposed on that section of the route last year.

Prosecutor John O'Neill said the band marched into the restricted area on the return leg and played a hymn tune in breach of the determination as it passed the church.

The incident occurred just before evening Mass was due to start.

Mr O'Neill said the band later published a statement online saying it had taken a conscious decision to breach the determination in an act of peaceful protest.

It also called on other bands to take a stand against Parades Commission rulings.

Four members of Bangor Protestant Boys were prosecuted after being identified as playing the tune.

They are: Ryan Campbell (22), of Ganaway Walk; Corey McNabb (20), from Birch Drive; Hugh Mills (51), of Abbots Walk; and Craig Winters (24), from Cranley Avenue - all in Bangor.

All four admitted a charge of knowingly failing to comply with a condition imposed by the Parades Commission.

Defence lawyers sad their clients wished to apologise for their actions.

Imposing a £250 fine on each defendant, District Judge Ken Nixon gave them six months to pay the penalty.

Jamie Bryson, a member of the band, criticised the prosecution.

"It is an indictment on the system that anyone should be criminalised for expression of their culture, and especially in the context of playing a religious hymn," he said.

The blogger and flag protester also claimed that a "heinous" attempt was made to prosecute other members but was "thwarted" because of the way the band was "compartmentalised into different sections".

"As part of this case a number of us initially refused to present for questioning for alleged offences under the Public Processions Act," he added.

"We asserted, and were ultimately proven right, that the PSNI had no powers of arrest under this legislation. This, again, is important learning for future legal battles."

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