Northern Ireland news

Britain First leaders' Belfast trial in doubt after imprisonment in England

Britain First leader Paul Golding at Belfast Magistrates Court in January with Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen

A trial involving the leaders of far-right group Britain First for allegedly inciting hatred in Belfast has been plunged into doubt following their imprisonment in England.

Paul Golding and his deputy Jayda Fransen are among four people due to contest charges at a hearing listed for next month.

But Belfast Magistrates' Court heard today that date is now uncertain because the pair have been jailed for religiously aggravated harassment in a separate case.

Their barrister, Richard McConkey, is set to contact English authorities to see if they can be released from custody for the scheduled trial in Northern Ireland.

Inquiries will also be made about the alternative possibility of arranging prison video-links for the proceedings.

Adjourning the case, District Judge Fiona Bagnall indicated she may have to postpone the April 6 contest if uncertainty over their availability continues.

Golding (36) and Fransen (32) are being prosecuted over speeches delivered outside Belfast City Hall.

The case relates to a 'Northern Ireland Against Terrorism' rally in August last year.

Demonstrators had gathered on the same day as a republican march to mark the use of internment without trial by the British Army at the height of the Troubles in 1971.

Golding and Fransen are charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words.

They allegedly intended to stir up hatred or arouse fear by his comments, according to the police case.

Similar charges have also been brought against 60-year-old John Banks, of Acacia Road in Doncaster, south Yorkshire, and Paul Rimmer (55) of Modred Street in Liverpool.

All four accused deny the allegations against them.

But doubts about the trial being able to go ahead emerged after Golding and Fransen were convicted at Folkestone Magistrates' Court last week over unrelated charges.

Fransen was handed a 36-week sentence while Golding received 18 weeks.

"They are going to be in custody on the date of the contest," Mr McConkey said.

"I'm not aware of eligibility requirements the authorities would need so they can be produced."

Granting an adjournment for further inquiries, District Judge Fiona Bagnall acknowledged the April trial date was likely to "fall by the wayside".

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