The trial of 22 people charged with holding a sit-down protest against a sectarian march in north Belfast this summer was quickly enveloped in controversy after the PSNI police admitted they had no evidence to present against at least two of those charged, and suggested that much of their knowledge had come from informers.
The public gallery of court 13 at Belfast Magistrates Court was packed to capacity this week as supporters joined 20 men and two women charged in connection with the protest at Ardoyne on July 12 last year.
All of those charged pleaded not guilty to obstructing a march by the anti-Catholic Orange Order through the Ardoyne in north Belfast. They also refused to accept a guilty verdict on a lesser offence.
Even before the case started, one defendant had all charges against him dropped when two PSNI members said they had “wrongly identified” him from camera footage taken on the day, while another was discharged on the first day of the trial for the same reason.
An underage defendant was also dismissed from proceedings as the case had to be dealt with by the youth courts.
Campaigners said that the Ardoyne demonstration was a lawful, peaceful sit-down protest which did not flout the rulings of the Parades Commission. It had been organised by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).
However, former Parades Commission secretary Ronnie Pedlow told the court the protest should have been confined to the side of the road and away from the “carriageway”.
Mr Pedlow said permission for a ‘static’ protest had been granted to a second residents’ group, the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents’ Association (Cara). However, questioned on the first day of the trial, he could not give a definitive answer on who was involved.
Video footage of the sit-down was played in court, with those involved heard to chant “peaceful protest” at riot squad police facing them.
Under cross-examination, a PSNI man involved in the case said they “could not have brought the protesters to court without the constant assistance of local community and political representatives before, during and after” the GARC protest.
According to one GARC supporter, republicans “have known for a considerable period that there are those within our communities who regularly ‘share’ information with the MI5 directed RUC/PSNI to ensure those who don’t accept an imperialist system which exists in the occupied Six Counties are marginalised in the wider community and criminalised by the British State.
“This shameful behaviour is ongoing and needs to be exposed for what it is.
“GARC, their collective and tactics are community based and they stood up for the Greater Ardoyne Community, unlike the shameful behaviour of those who ‘helped’ the RUC/PSNI to criminalise the same community.”
* Separately, Liam Adams, brother of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, was remanded in custody at the Magistrates’ Court today following his extradition to the North on sex offence charges.
He lost a legal battle this week against being extradited after a court in Dublin refused him permission to remain south of the border. He is charged with the abuse of his daughter Aine Tyrell, who has waived her right to anonymity.