Protestor Bryson ‘treated officers with contempt’

Jamie Bryson arrives at court in relation to his on going court case concerning flag protests
Jamie Bryson arrives at court in relation to his on going court case concerning flag protests

High-profile Union Flag protestor Jamie Bryson treated police with contempt by claiming to be an Irish republican and suggesting a fictional gay relationship with fellow campaigner Willie Frazer, a court heard on Friday.

He also told officers quizzing him over suspected illegal marches that he was the First Minister and that the Ulster People’s Forum was probably funded by Jesus, it was claimed.

But giving evidence at his trial for allegedly taking part in unlawful public processions, Bryson insisted: “I was treating the interviews as ridiculous as I was being asked ridiculous questions.”

The 24-year-old, of Rosepark in Donaghadee, Co Down, is contesting a series of charges linked to widespread demonstrations over the decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag at Belfast City Hall.

He is accused of participating in four un-notified public processions during January and February 2013, and obstructing traffic on the city’s Newtownards Road.

Entering the witness box on the second day of the hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court, 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.

Asked about a speech he gave at City Hall which allegedly included the line ‘leaders lead from the front’, he told the court: “It was a quote from a different source, I think Nelson Mandela.

“I used Nelson’s quote (but) it wasn’t in the context of leading from the front of an un-notified procession.”

During cross-examination David Russell, prosecuting, pressed him on his answers to police who probed him about the events and his association with Mr Frazer.

“It was such a ridiculous question, I think I told them I was an Irish republican,” Bryson said.

Amid outbursts of laughter from supporters in the public gallery, the prosecutor continued: “You told them you were the First Minister.

“You suggested at one stage that Jesus probably funded the Ulster People’s Forum.

“You suggested you were a homosexual.”

Bryson replied: “They asked what kind of relationship I had with Willie Frazer. It was another ridiculous question.”

Mr Russell also claimed the defendant flippantly told officers he was “a bit mad” and only stood for election for the money.

He put it to him: “You were treating this with utter contempt.”

But Bryson insisted any contempt was for a PSNI operation he claimed was politically motivated.

He told the court he stood in public elections to express lawful democratic views.

“I’m not out putting masks on and firing guns,” he added.

“Of course I felt it was contemptuous that the PSNI were holding me over that.”

At one stage in the hearing District Judge Fiona Bagnall warned him about sarcastic answers and showing respect to the prosecutor.

Bryson stressed, however, that even senior police officers had to seek judicial clarity at the time over whether the protests were illegal.

He pointed out how he was clearly identifiable on the footage.

“If I knew this was illegal then I’m the worst criminal in history,” he said.

When Mr Russell suggested Bryson had been walking on the road as part of a group, he responded: “This is getting beyond the realms of ridiculousness.

“I walked as an individual. You’re trying to entrap me in something which you will use in semantics against me.”

Following his evidence the case was adjourned until next month.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr is due to attend court then to be questioned by Bryson’s legal team about any meetings in connection with the flags protest and a press interview he gave about events at that time.