Rehabilitated rioter escapes jail term

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The daughter of a Catholic former RUC officer has escaped going to prison for rioting after a court heard she had now turned her life around.

Judith Hawthorn, 35, of Ainsworth Avenue, Belfast, was handed an 18-month prison sentence suspended for three years.

In January this year, Belfast Crown Court deferred sentence on Hawthorn to see if she could change her behaviour and also to help her beat her addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Hawthorn had pleaded guilty to a single count of rioting on September 2, 2012, and was warned at the time by deputy Belfast Recorder Judge Corinne Philpott QC: “I am giving you a chance to turn your life around so I am deferring sentence for six months.

“It is most important that you stay off alcohol and stop taking cannabis. If you don’t, I am sentencing you to 18 months.”

A prosecuting barrister said on Friday that since the deferral police confirmed that Hawthorn had stayed out of trouble and had not come to their attention.

He said that becaue of her “quite distinctive’’ appearance, she had not been noticed by police at the nightly loyalist protest parade at Twaddell Avenue.

“The court can draw some comfort from the fact that the investigating officer says she has not been present.’’

The prosecution lawyer added that it was clear from the probation report Hawthorn was taking steps to combat her addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Hawthorn is the only female to be charged and convicted over the trouble, which erupted on September 2, 2012.

More than 60 police officers were injured during three nights of rioting on streets close to Carlisle Circus in north Belfast.

Trouble flared after a republican parade in the area by the Henry Joy McCracken band.

Loyalists had objected to the parade going through the area without any restrictions being imposed by the Parades Commission.

The Crown lawyer said Hawthorn was present at the scene for over four hours during the rioting.

He said the mother-of-two was captured on police video throwing two missiles at police lines and a third missile at republicans in the Hopelink centre off Carlisle Circus.

At one point, tattooed Hawthorn, wearing a blue Glasgow Rangers Football Club baseball cap, was seen on the footage verbally abusing police in sectarian terms.

Prosecuting counsel said Hawthorn was arrested the following month.

“She was interviewed and readily accepted it was her in the footage. However, she told officers she had no clear recollection of the day because she had been drinking,’’ he added.

A defence barrister said that Hawthorn had fallen out with her father, a Catholic former RUC officer, “as a result of the publicity in this case after her last appearance in court’’.

Judge Philpott QC remarked: “It is not the fault of this court. If she is caught for these offences like she did, you can expect to be in front of the court.’’

The defence lawyer added that Hawthorn had taken steps to combat her addiction to drugs and alchohol and was taking advantage of the services offered by FASA (Forum for Action Substance Abuse and Suicide).

“She has expressed remorse for her actions and she has also written a letter to you personally Your Honour apologising for her behaviour in court on the last occasion.

“She previously lived in the Shankill estate where she would have been under the influence of a group of people who were involved in this disgraceful behaviour.

“Her new address has taken her away from this peer group of people and she has also changed her mobile number.’’

Judge Philpott QC told Hawthorn: “I am going to give you an opportunity not because you apologised but because of what was said on your behalf by the police officer in this case.

“You should remember that he has indicated that you have behaved yourself and he didn’t have to do that.

“I am going to give you a suspended sentence but if you don’t stay out of trouble you will be going into custody for whatever offence you commit and this sentence (of 18 months) will be put into effect consecutively.

“Do not allow people to take advantage of you,’’ added the Deputy Belfast Recorder.