Five members of the Royal Black Institution were convicted yesterday of knowingly breaching a ban on bands playing music outside a Catholic church in Belfast.
They were each fined £150 after a judge found them guilty of failing to comply with conditions imposed on the march either as organisers or participants. A sixth defendant was acquitted because he was held to be unaware of the restrictions.
Charges were brought against all six over the Black Saturday parade in August 2012. A prohibition had been placed on tunes being played outside St Patrick’s on Donegall Street.
A prosecution lawyer argued that the Royal Black members should be found guilty on the basis of a joint enterprise with those who played the tunes.
The defendants’ solicitor insisted there was nothing to show his clients knew they were doing anything wrong. He argued that none of them could be held responsible for breaching the Parades’ Commission determination because the organisational role lay with the Belfast Grand Black Chapter as a corporate authority rather than individuals.
However, guilty verdicts were returned against Thomas Foster, 60, of Woodvale Avenue; William Mawhinney, 67, of Ainsworth Avenue; Alan McIntosh, 60, of Kilcoole Park; Raymond Spiers, 56, from Castlereagh Road – all in Belfast – and Brian Kerr, 42, of Fairview Gardens, Newtownabbey.
District Judge George Conner said: “Those who are responsible and hold office in an organisation have a responsibility to ensure those who take part in parades do so lawfully.”
Dismissing the case against a sixth accused, Thomas Hefferon, 55, of Derrycoole Way, Newtownabbey, he added: “I accept on the balance of probabilities he was ignorant of the terms of the ruling.”
Defence lawyer Keith Gamble argued that none of his clients had behaved badly. “These gentlemen took it upon themselves to be engaged in what seems to be the increasingly risky activity of putting your name to a form and having the sins of others visited upon you. As far as these men are concerned there’s nothing they themselves did to bring any trouble to the streets,” he said.
Judge Conner acknowledged it had been others who were disorderly on the day. He imposed a £150 fine on each of the men convicted.
A spokesman for the Royal Black Institution said: “The matter will be discussed at the Grand Council of the Institution which will meet in June. For people who have been convicted in court, the penalties can include suspension or expulsion from the Institution.”