Death threats have been issued against loyalist band members who were this week cleared on appeal of “playing provocatively” outside a Catholic church.
Thirteen members of the Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers Flute Band successfully appealed convictions over an incident in Belfast’s Donegall Street on August 25, 2012.
Police called with 17 members today – two of them juveniles – and handed them written warnings, prompting at least one of them to flee his home.
Band spokesman Paul Shaw and his son both received the warning cards from police, which they said were from “criminal elements”.
“There have been police cars around our area all night,” he said. “One family is in complete distress. Another has fled their home and others are considering it. The band has not been able to march for a year due to verbal threats.”
Mr Shaw said all 13 members cleared of playing sectarian music have been threatened, as well as four others who were previously cleared of breaching a Parades Commission determination.
The “most sinister” aspect is that threats have even been made against the homes of four bandsmen who have moved since their addresses were published in court.
Police said they could not disclose who was behind the threat for intelligence reasons, he added.
“It must be republicans. So Sinn Fein would need to be coming out and condemning these threats.”
North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey said the fact police called with the band members shows how seriously they are taking the threats. It is even more serious as “some of those who were visited by the police are children”.
“There is a particular onus on Sinn Fein to condemn these death threats since the person who produced the original video clip of the band is now a Sinn Fein councillor.”
Orange Order spokesman Rev Mervyn Gibson said it was “reckless” for the media to republish the addresses of the bandsmen upon their acquittal. He also condemned the media for broadcasting footage of the band marching outside St Patrick’s Chapel “more often than a Morecambe and Wise Christmas special”.
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said: “This is ridiculous. Police have had to give warnings to all these people’s homes – two of them children. Sinn Fein needs to come out and condemn this and say these threats need to be lifted.”
TUV Court Councillor Jolene Bunting said: “Having seen these young men cleared by the courts of the land Republicans now revert to type and seek to take the law into their own hands.
“This is totally unacceptable and I would appeal to the PSNI to show the same vigour in bringing those responsible to justice as they did in their ultimately futile attempts to prosecute the band members.”
Police said they do not offer comment on individuals’ security.
Sinn Fein had not offered any comment at the time of going to press.