Five in court accused of affray and unlawful assembly linked to north Down loyalist feud
Five men appeared in court on Tuesday accused of affray and unlawful assembly after police used drone footage to record a crowd of up to 60 men ripping South East Antrim UDA regalia from houses in Newtownards.
Appearing at Newtownards Magistrates Court by videolink from police custody, the five defendants confirmed they understood the charges against them.
The five, all charged with unlawful assembly and affray at Weavers Grange in the town of 6 April this year are:
David Milligan, 43, Shackleton Walk;
Samuel Coulter, 56, Cambourne Mews;
David James Thompson, 40, Fir Drive;
Jimmy Leung, 35, Glenbrook Road and
Noel Thomas Morrison, Stirling Avenue.
According to a police statement, the charges are linked to the ongoing loyalist paramilitary drug feud spreading across Ards and north Down and in court lawyers for the defendants argued there was not enough evidence to connect them to the charges.
Giving evidence a police officer said there had been “escalating level of violence” in Ards, Bangor and Donaghadee as part of the ongoing feud where one faction is trying to oust another faction from Ards.
She outlined that on 6 April and in the context of police having a semi-permanent presence in the Weavers Grange area of Ards, a large crowd of 50-60 men, around ten of whom were masked, were seen walking from the Jubilee Road, along an alley on the Circular Road and climbing over a fence to get into Weavers Grange.
Some men were carrying ladders and one had a hammer which were used to remove South East Antrim UDA murals from the gable walls of three houses.
The officer told the she believed she could connect each of the defendants based on footage obtained by police using evidence gathering cameras on vehicles, body worn cameras and also drone footage.
District Judge Mark Hamill watched some of that footage and commented that “clearly, it speaks for itself”.
Despite suggestions from the various defence lawyers there was not enough evidence to establish a formal connection the judge said given the two strands of evidence the video footage and a witness statement where the five defendants were specifically named, “connection is entirely reasonable.”
With the context of “an ongoing paramilitary feud,” he told the lawyers any question of the credibility of the witness purporting to identify the defendants “is a matter for further down the line in criminal proceedings.”
Opposing bail the police officered onfirmed that to date, there had been incidents relating to petrol bomb attacks, a pipe bomb attack, a shooting and a litany of damage and intimidation already, she told the court the feud had already put “considerable strain on police resources and the public purse.”
Lawyers for each of the five applied for bail, arguing in terms that conditions could be put in place to address police concerns.
DJ Hamill told them however “it is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the situation in Ards.”
“There’s been over 100 separate incidents ranging from petrol bomb attacks on houses to masked men gathering outside this very courthouse, to graffiti threatening the life of a named person being sprayed on the wall, the front wall of his very courthouse.
“In all the years of the Troubles, I have never known such a direct and insolent interaction with the justice process.
“Particularly striking is the bare-faced, though sometimes masked activities relating to this feud. This group of 50-60 people were undeterred by the presence of the police in Weavers Grange, undeterred by the presence of video cameras, undeterred by the presence of women and children on this estate,” declared the judge.
All five were refused bail and remanded into custody to appear again on 28 June.