Northern Ireland news

Charges against one of the Pitt Park 'show of strength' accused to be dismissed

Video footage shows a group of masked men in the Pitt Park area of east Belfast

ALL charges against one of the men accused of taking part in a suspected loyalist show of strength in east Belfast are to be dismissed, a judge ruled today.

The case against David Matthews (36) was thrown out because of insufficient evidence connecting him to the gathering of nearly 40 masked men at Pitt Park in February last year.

He is now seeking to sue the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for damages, a defence lawyer disclosed.

But his 59-year-old father Stephen Matthews and Derek Lammey (57) must both stand trial at the Crown Court over their alleged involvement.

All three men were charged with unlawful assembly, affray and intimidation following the high-profile incident.

Prosecutors contended that a group of men associated with the East Belfast UVF went into the area with their faces covered by scarves and hoods.

Disputed claims were made that up to 11 people living in the area fled their homes and sheltered for days in a nearby community centre.

Stephen Matthews, of Pansy Street in Belfast, David Matthews, from Millreagh in Dundonald, and Derek Lammey, of Spring Place in Belfast, were alleged to have played leadership roles in the gathering.

The case against them was based on CCTV footage, identifications made by police officers, and statements from civilian witnesses said to be too frightened to testify.

The defendants denied involvement and are not accused of any paramilitary offences.

During a preliminary inquiry at Belfast Magistrates Court into the strength of the evidence, defence lawyers described the charges as an attempt to "grasp at smoke".

They argued that even if their client's alleged participation could be established, no unlawful activity took place.

Counsel for David Matthews insisted the only evidence came from a police officer who claimed to recognise his partially covered face but who also accepted the identification could be wrong.

Ruling on the preliminary stage, Judge Greg McCourt said the incident could be regarded as an organised crowd of moving through an area, making gestures and "using language which would put any reasonable person in fear of injury or damage to property."

He held: "I'm satisfied that Derek Lammey and Stephens Matthews have a case to answer on all three charges.

"However, the identification of David Matthews is qualified, and I am satisfied that it is insufficient to return him for trial on any of the charges. Consequently, he will be discharged."

With Stephen Matthews and Derek Lammey remaining on bail, they were told to attend court for arraignment on a date to be set in their ongoing criminal trial.

Following the decision David Matthews' solicitor insisted the evidence against him had always been below the required standard.

Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law said: "We are now instructed to pursue the PPS for damages for the malicious nature of this prosecution."

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