Judge has ‘heavy heart’ as he jails brothers with clear records for attack on police at internment bonfire

Two west Belfast brothers who hurled missiles at police at an internment bonfire were each handed 16-month sentences on Friday.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 1:40 pm
Updated Friday, 28th May 2021, 1:43 pm
The scene at Distillery Street in west Belfast last August after PSNI officers moved in with contractors to remove internment bonfire material. 26 officers were injured after they were attacked by rioters. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

At Belfast Crown Court, sitting in Antrim, Judge Neil Rafferty QC told 34-year-old Michael Mulholland and his younger brother Anthony (25) it was with a “heavy heart” that he had to order them to spend half their sentences in jail and the rest on licence

The judge added that while “it’s not easy” to send men with essentially clear records to jail, sentencing guidelines were clear that for the offence of riot, “only an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate.”

At an earlier hearing the brothers, both from Blackwater Way in Belfast, entered guilty pleas to a single count of riot on August 8 last year.

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Prosecuting counsel Philip Henry told the court that a bonfire to commemorate the anniversary of internment had been built on private land on Distillery Street which the landlord wanted cleared away.

With the police tasked to provide security for contractors to clear the site during the afternoon, a crowd of around 60 people gathered and began to attack the police with missiles from the bonfire.

“It was considered too dangerous for the contractors to start work, so they left and the PSNI commander on the ground asked for reinforcements,” said Mr Henry adding that while the crowd settled, when the contractors returned “their arrival agitated the crowd and the rioting re-started.”

Contractors and police were attacked but while the worker were almost struck, the police were struck multiple times with paint, masonry, bricks, pieces of metal and parts of pallets leaving a total of 29 officers injured, one of whom was hospitalised and had to take three weeks off work.

“The contractors removed most of the debris and ultimately they, along with police, were able to retreat, but the rioting was sustained and continued until they left,” said the lawyer.

Images of those involved were released by police and on foot of those, the Mulholland brothers handed themselves in to police.

Turning to their actions during the rioting, Mr Henry described how Michael Mulholland threw approximately eight missiles at police officers while his little brother threw around six.

During police interviews, they both admitted what they had done and conceded being “ashamed” of themselves and their “stupid” actions.

With the brothers appearing at court by videolink, Judge Rafferty said given it was a Bank Holiday weekend, he would allow them until Tuesday to “put your affairs in order” before surrendering themselves to custody.