Northern Ireland news

Stephen Matthews is bailed

Loyalists gather in Pitt Park in east Belfast

A man accused of leading a loyalist show of strength in east Belfast has been granted bail at the High Court.

Stephen Matthews is to be released from custody on strict conditions including a ban on being with more than two other people in public.

The 58-year-old was allegedly involved in a gathering of up to 60 masked men at Pitt Park on February 2.

The group is believed to be linked to the East Belfast UVF, it was claimed.

Matthews, from Pansy Street in the city, faces charges of unlawful assembly and affray in connection with the high-profile incident.

His 34-year-old son, David Matthews, of Millreagh in Dundonald, and Derek Lammey, 56, from Spring Place in Belfast, are accused of the same offences.

With the case based on disputed identification evidence from police officers, all three defendants deny involvement and have not been charged with any paramilitary offences.

Prosecutors have alleged Stephen Matthews and Lammey played leadership roles as the group of men heading into Pitt Park with faces covered by scarves and hoods.

Previous courts heard claims that 11 people living in the area fled their homes and sheltered in a nearby community centre for up to eight days.

Challenging the strength of the case against his client, the barrister insisted the alleged incident involved no threat of violence.

Mr Justice Humphreys was told a UVF flag and plaque commemorating one of its murdered commanders, Robert Seymour, has been seized from Stephen Matthews' home.

According to defence counsel, however, similar articles are far from rare in that part of Belfast.

"The flag could be freely purchased on the Lower Newtownards Road, none of these items are prohibited," Mr Duffy added.

With David Matthews granted bail last month to live at a location outside Belfast, the judge ruled that his father can also now be released on a £10,000 surety.

He said: "In the context of the worrying street violence seen in Belfast this week, it's welcome that in that part of east Belfast there appears to have been a maintenance of the peace."

Stephen Matthews was ordered to live under curfew at an address in Co Down, and barred from contacting others arrested as part of the investigation.

Mr Justice Humphreys further directed: "He is not to be in the company of three or more people in a public place."

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