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Landmark 'hate crime' prosecution over loyalist bonfire

Sources say the case, expected in court next moth, relates to a racist slur written across the bedsteads positioned at the base of the bonfire at Antrim's Ballycraigy estate last year
Sources say the case, expected in court next moth, relates to a racist slur written across the bedsteads positioned at the base of the bonfire at Antrim's Ballycraigy estate last year Sources say the case, expected in court next moth, relates to a racist slur written across the bedsteads positioned at the base of the bonfire at Antrim's Ballycraigy estate last year

A HATE crime case over a notorious loyalist bonfire is being brought to court in a landmark prosecution.

Prosecutors have decided to charge a man with placing abusive material on an Eleventh Night bonfire following an investigation by police.

The bonfire in Antrim made global headlines last year for its racist and sectarian displays including an effigy of a hanged Gerry Adams.

A racist display, a rainbow flag representing the gay community, and numerous tricolours were also placed at the huge pyre at Ballycraigy.

The case is believed to be the first time a prosecution has been brought over offensive material displayed on a bonfire.

Sources say the prosecution, expected in court next month, relates to a racist slur written across bedsteads positioned at the base of the pyre.

Police have faced criticism over the bonfire in recent weeks after The Irish News revealed officers urged a council to fund the pyre, despite the hate crime probe.

Bonfire groups in the Antrim area can apply for council funding of up to £3,000 for related events, with some money usually provided up front and the remainder afterwards.

Payments are approved by a committee that includes councillors, community representatives and PSNI officers.

Committee minutes show funding was given after police were "urging council support" last year to approve payments for Ballycraigy.

The Ballycraigy bonfire caused uproar again this year when effigies of Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and hunger striker Bobby Sands in a coffin were placed on the pyre.

Police have confirmed this year's display of effigies is also being treated as a sectarian hate incident.

The landmark legal case emerges just weeks after the PSNI said prosecutions over election posters and effigies on bonfires were unlikely – because the evidence had been burned.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin last month said some of the material was "clearly distasteful and offensive".

But he added: "These items were destroyed on the bonfires and it is unlikely there will be any evidential material to progress."

Last night the Public Prosecution Service would only say a file received from police over last year's bonfire "remains under active consideration".