High-profile Union Flag protestor Jamie Bryson has been given a six-month suspended prison sentence for taking part in unlawful public processions.
The 24-year-old was told he deserved no credit for contesting charges of participating in demonstrations staged in Belfast.
In many ways Mr Bryson has been made a scapegoat for what is colloquially known as the flag protestsDefence lawyer Richard McConkey
Even though Bryson was not involved in any violence surrounding the protests, District Judge Fiona Bagnall said: “We had several un-notified (processions) which have caused disorder at a very tense and sensitive time in our community.”
Standing in the dock at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, the defendant smiled at relatives and supporters as the sentence was handed down.
His lawyers also announced plans to appeal his convictions.
Bryson, of Rosepark in Donaghadee, Co Down, had fought a series of charges linked to widespread demonstrations over the decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall, claiming he was the victim of a political prosecution.
The allegations included four counts of participating in un-notified public processions during January and February 2013, and obstructing traffic on the city’s Newtownards Road.
In his evidence Bryson insisted he did not know the protests could have been unlawful.
He accepted featuring on CCTV footage of the events, but repeatedly stressed that each time he walked to and from the centre of Belfast as an individual.
During the trial prosecution counsel accused him of treating police who interviewed him with contempt.
The court heard he told officers quizzing him about the marches that he was an Irish republican and the First Minister.
He even suggesteed a fictional gay relationship with fellow campaigner Willie Frazer, it was claimed.
In a highly unusual move, one of Northern Ireland’s most senior police officers was called to give evidence as part of the defence case.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr told how he agreed to meet Bryson and loyalist community representatives as part of efforts to ensure their weekly demonstrations did not break the law.
He also insisted that he warned those at the meeting on January 29, 2013 of the “criminal justice consequences” of taking part in un-notified public processions.
Following Bryson’s conviction on all counts he returned to court on Wednesday to be sentenced.
A prosecutor pointed out that the offences took place in breach of a suspended prison term imposed back in 2012 for possession of an offensive weapon.
But defence counsel Richard McConkey stressed how his client had been trying to prevent trouble at each of the events.
He argued: “In many ways Mr Bryson has been made a scapegoat for what is colloquially known as the flag protests and the disorder at some of those protests.
“The footage played throughout the contest was of Mr Bryson repeatedly calling for peaceful protest and condemning any violence that occurred towards police officers or in the context of riotous behaviour.”
Passsing sentence, Judge Bagnall again rejected the defendant’s claim that he was unaware his actions broke the law.
“Mr Bryson was under no illusion or confusion about the status of these parades,” she said.
“He may have tried to say he was confused, but I did not accept he was confused at any time.”
However, she acknowledged that Bryson has already served three weeks in custody while on remand for the charges, and that he was seen encouraging others to act lawfully.
Imposing a six-month prison sentence for the four un-notified procession offences, the judge suspended it for two years.
She also handed down a one-month term, suspended for 18 months, for obstructing traffic.
Mr McConkey then confirmed: “My instructions are to lodge an appeal against conviction, regardless of the sentence.”