A 32-year old man who admitted being a member of the Ulster Defence Association, and of possessing a document bearing an oath of allegiance to the paramililtary organisation, was handed a three-year sentence on Thursday.
Sending David Coleman to prison, Judge Geoffrey Miller said the evidence presented to the court suggested the 32-year old’s responsibility within the UDA was at a “local level” as opposed to a him being a “directing figure.”
The judge also described the UDA as an illegal organisation steeped in “brutal thuggery, extortion and drug dealing ... which offers nothing to the community it leeches off”.
Coleman, a father-of-one from The Green in Holywood, was charged with two terrorist offences following searches of properties connected to him last summer, namely belonging to the UDA on dates between November 6, 2016 and October 18, 2017, and of possessing a document likely to be useful for terrorism.
Despite initially denying the offences, Coleman - who Belfast Crown Court heard was originally from the Shankill area of Belfast - subsequently pleaded guilty to the charges, and was handed a three-year sentence. He was told he will serve 18 months in custody, followed by 18 months in licence when he is released.
Before passing sentence, Judge Miller was told by a Crown prosecutor that a number of items were seized during searches of properties linked to Coleman on June 19 last year.
In one property, police saw a black UFF flag flying at the front of the house, while a mobile phone was located in a second house.
The prosecutor revealed that a deleted text was sent to multiple recipients from the phone, which said (SIC): “Lads the more ya look around the more ya realise were defo back on our feet and it feels gd when the world put us down and laughed at us not to many laughing now is there but always keep our feet on the floor we don’t show of or act big lads we dont need to and its done us wonders no fighting or shit we any of were coming togeather building abit at a time it a team effort it cant work we out team work and our teams gd and were doing things that ppl said couldnt d done well the last two years say it all the future lads togeather and go forward watp qs 2nd batt c coy.”
One person responded by writing “QS bro.”
The prosecutor said it was the Crown’s case that the text was linked to the UDA - especially Coleman’s use of ‘watp’ for ‘we are the people’ and ‘QS’ for ‘Quis Separabit’. He also revealed that images were found on the phone, including pictures of Coleman at UDA/C Company murals on the Shankill.
The court heard further searches were carried out, and on October 17 last year police recovered a document used to swear an oath of allegiance to the UDA and which bore Coleman’s fingerprints. The prosecutor said: “Also recovered was a great deal of material indicative of membership.”
The prosecutor added Coleman’s criminal record - which includes offences for rioting, robbery and carrying an imitation firearm - was a “significant aggravating factor.”
Defence barrister Charles MacCreanor QC said Coleman’s plea should be welcomed by the Crown, as there would have been difficulties in prosecuting the case as a majority of the evidence against his client was “hearsay and circumstantial.”
Pointing out Coleman’s plea indicated an acceptance of responsibility, Mr MacCreanor spoke of the mundane nature of the texts, which he said were “certainly not organising criminal activity.”
The barrister also addressed Coleman’s criminal record, telling the court he was charged with disorderly behaviour at 14, and rioting at 15 and again at 16 - around the same time Coleman was expelled from school, with the barrister telling the court Coleman “fell in with what is often described as negative peers.”