A school groundkeeper who threw three items at police lines after a peaceful loyalist protest descended into a riot today started a 12-month sentence.
William Black (28) from Syerla Road in Dungannon will spend six months of the sentence in custody with the remaining six months spent on supervised licence upon his release, after he admitted a single charge of rioting.
Belfast Crown Court heard Black - employed as a groundkeeper working in schools on both sides of the divide as part of a ‘mixed’ workforce - decided not to go home after work but stayed in the city to take part in a protest on August 9 last year.
Serious street disorder erupted after loyalists mounted a protest about an anti-internment 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 broke out, it spread to the nearby Carrick Hill/Peter’s Hill area.
A Crown prosecutor said Black was captured on police CCTV in the crowd of protestors at Royal Avenue, where he was seen throwing three items at police lines over a short period of time. The prosector added that in total, Black was in the area for around two hours.
He handed himself in to police at Lurgan earlier this year, and while he initially adopted a ‘no comment’ stance during interviews, he later admitted rioting. The court also heard that Black came before the court with a clear criminal record.
Defence lawyer Richard Monteith told Judge Corinne Philpott QC that Black was a member of a local pipe band which was “not a band associated with triumpalism or sectarian behaviour.”
Saying his client regretted becoming involved in the incident, Mr Monteith spoke of Black’s good working background and character - which included helping to raise funds for the Marie Curie cancer charity - adding it was the “first time” anyone in his family had been in trouble.
Judge Philpott said that on the evening in question, the PSNI was trying to “keep both sides apart” but that after coming under attack, a total of 56 officers sustained injuries as a result of “extensive public disorder.”
The Judge told Black that given his employment history, when he works with people “from a different religion” on a daily basis, she found it “difficult to fathom” why he became involved in the incident.