Northern Ireland news

Belfast man sentenced for sharing 'malicious' posters online

Daniel Serban with Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Brendan Hughes

A MAN was sentenced today for sharing photos on Facebook of an "entirely false and malicious" poster campaign in south Belfast.

Daniel Serban (42), of Palestine Street in Belfast, admitted a charge of improper use of an electronic communications network.

It comes after intimidating posters were put up in the Holylands area which made false allegations about health workers.

The posters falsely claimed that health workers assisting the Roma community were paedophiles and were involved in a child sex network.

Appearing in the dock at Belfast Magistrates Court, Serban was given a conditional discharge for a period of two years.

District Judge Peter Magill said: "The facts are that there were scurrilous communications as a result of posters that were put up in Belfast."

Defence solicitor Pearse MacDermott said his client had been sent the photos through Facebook.

He said the defendant "saw the word 'paedophile' and thought he was doing a favour".

It was accepted that this was a "dangerous thing to do" and the posters were "entirely false and malicious".

Mr MacDermott said Serban lives with his wife and their one-year-old child, and that he was a "man of limited record".

Sentencing the defendant, the judge gave him credit for pleading guilty and said that otherwise he "might have gone to jail".

He said the offence "appears to be utterly out of character", adding: "You did not realise who this person was, because this person had helped you and your family, and had you known that you would never have done this.

"You did not start this. Some other person maliciously slandered this good person."

The posters were erected in 2018 after a south Belfast charity was at the centre of a police probe into alleged exploitation and intimidation affecting the Roma community.

The Romanian Roma Community Association of Northern Ireland (RRCANI) was accused of charging Roma "large sums of money" for what should be free benefits advice.

The claims were raised with the Belfast Trust, which responded by moving its Early Years children's services out of RRCANI's Holylands offices.

RRCANI strongly denied the allegations.

In November, prominent Roma leader Nicolae Nicola – who was the public face of RRCANI – was questioned by police as part of their investigation.

A file has been sent to the Public Prosecution Service to consider the alleged offences of attempted intimidation and harassment.

A third man – Florin Bondor (32), of Thorndale Avenue in Belfast – was charged with the same offence as Serban but was found not guilty early last month.

Serban, a member of the north's Roma community, was pictured some years ago with Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir while wearing the Lord Mayor of Belfast's chain of office.

Mr Ó Muilleoir said he had his picture taken with thousands of people when he was Belfast mayor in 2013/14, and does not know Serban.

In 2018 Mr Ó Muilleoir had posted on Twitter his support for RRCANI when allegations about the organisation began circulating online.

He tweeted a photo of himself outside RRCANI's offices with people including Mr Nicola, and said he was "proud to stand with RRCANI".

The former South Belfast MLA had also written to Belfast health trust criticising the decision to move children's services from RRCANI.

He later said that Sinn Féin is "opposed to all forms of racism, exploitation and intimidation" and called for a thorough police investigation.

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