Man joined riot ‘because he didn’t want to feel left out’

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A “vulnerable” Belfast man who involved himself in a city centre riot as he didn’t want to feel left out, has been spared jail.

John Lemon, 38, from Carrs Glen Park, was caught on police CCTV trying to overturn a PSNI vehicle, attempting to damage a police Land Rover wing mirror, and throwing two bricks at police lines when a riot broke out in Royal Avenue last summer.

Lemon – described in court on Tuesday as a vulerable man with a low IQ – was handed a three-year probation order after a judge considered three separate reports which suggested he would benefit more from supervision as opposed to prison. The reports also suggested that Lemon would be unable to cope with custody.

Belfast Crown Court heard serious street disorder erupted in the centre of Belfast on the evening of August 9 last year after loyalists mounted a protest about an anti-interment parade which was due to make its way from Alliance Avenue to west Belfast via the city centre.

A group of protestors gathered in the Royal Avenue/North Street area and when trouble flared, several officers were injured and water cannon was deployed.

Crown prosecutor Joseph Murphy said Lemon was seen in the area for around an hour and a half, during which he was observed as part of a crowd trying to overturn a police vehicle.

Mr Murphy said Lemon was later identified by a police officer, and was subsequently arrested this March.

During interviews, Lemon was shown the CCTV footage, and made “full and frank admissions” of his involvement. He told officers he was initially involved in the peaceful protest, but when trouble flared he became involved as he didn’t want to feel left out when others started rioting.

The prosecutor told the court Lemon “was ashamed of his actions” and apologised to police.

Defence barrister Michael Campbell told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that his client came before the court with a clear criminal record, saying “he is almost 40 and he has never been in trouble”.

Mr Campbell said Lemon hadn’t gone to cause trouble but became involved when others around him did. He also spoke of Lemon’s “drug taking and alcohol abuse during his formative years”.

Judge Kerr said that after reading two medical reports and a probation report, he felt Lemon would benefit from supervision, before placing him on probation for three years.