No custodial sentence for Orange rioters

Fifteen Orangemen and loyalist supporters were freed by the Crown Court in Belfast today for rioting at Drumcree in Portadown in July last year.

Nembers of the Orange Order, some in bowler hats and full regalia, rioted in the glare of the worlds' media when their preferred march route into the nationalist Garvaghy estate was blocked by the British Army and PSNI police

The judge had said that the attack on police was ``an outrageous episode'' which had brought shame not only on the men themselves, but also on their families and the Orange Order.

Those freed had pleaded guilty to riotous assembly and were given suspended sentences.

Leading Orangeman Mark Harbinson, who was given a 12 month suspended jail term, thanked the Orange Order for their support, and said the courts should be trying to convict criminals than pursuing ``15 law abiding citizens.''

Prosecuting lawyer Jeffrey Millar described the 25 minute attack on police by a hard-core group of between 30 and 40, as ``intense and very nasty,'' in which 32 officers were injured, five of them seriously.

Mr Millar said that PSNI and British army fired only three plastic bullets after coming under attack when a small crowd control barrier on Drumcree bridge disintegrated and collapsed as rioters surged forward in an attempt to get on to the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

Despite angry and vengeful comments by some of the guilty men outside the Laganside court, inside, defence lawyer Alan Kane said while the attack was ``spontaneous'' and the men recognised ``it was wrong.''

Mr Kane claimed they had ``acted out of character'' and that they were ``normally law abiding citizens who got caught up in the heat of the moment.''

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