A Belfast man who was arrested for rioting after tagging himself on social media was handed a two-year sentence after appearing in court today.
Robert Darragh, from Hopewell Crescent in the Shankill area, was arrested by police after tagging himself twice as being present during serious street disorder which broke out in the Woodvale/Twaddell area last July.
He will spend half his sentence in prison, with the remainder of the sentence served on licence when he is released from custody.
Trouble flared in the area following a Parade Commission’s determination not to allow a loyalist flute band to pass by the nationalist Ardoyne shop fronts area on July 13.
A total of 29 police officers were injured during last year’s rioting after police lines were pelted with masonry, bricks, bottles and other items, with one officer almost losing an ear.
Crown prosecutor Simon Jenkins told Belfast Crown Court that 21-year old Darragh was captured on CCTV in the area for around an hour and a half that evening. The prosecutor said Darragh was observed “on numerous occasions” throwing various items at police lines.
He was also seen on CCTV footage throwing around 11 items from an overturned wheelie bin at officers.
The court heard that during the riot, Darragh covered his face and had his hood up in a bid to disguise his appearance. However, he was pictured sitting on a wall with his face uncovered prior to involving himself in the riot.
Mr Jenkins said that following the riot, police trawled through social media and discovered that Darragh had tagged himself as the man sitting on the wall, and had again tagged himself as one of the males rioting on the Woodvale Road.
When he was arrested and interviewed, Darragh said he had been drinking heavily and whilst he admitted he was in the area, he said he couldn’t remember throwing anything at police.
At that stage, Darragh also admitted being the man sitting on the wall and “didn’t admit” being the man rioting - despite the two images showing a man wearing identical clothes. He subsequently admitted a single charge of rioting.
Defence barrister Michael Boyd accepted that his client was “one of a handful of individuals in front of that crowd involved in throwing missiles at police lines from a short distance”.
Mr Boyd added there was “nothing to suggest any police officer was injured as a result of anything,” Darragh did.
The barrister said that when questioned by police about his involvement, Darragh made the case that he couldn’t remember as he had been on a three-day binge.
He also expressed shame for his actions during police interview, with Mr Boyd revealing that Darragh’s family were “appalled and disgusted by his actions.”
Mr Boyd concluded by saying Darragh “does not have a sectarian bone in his body” but rather last July he “allowed himself to get caught up with a group of people he knew” which resulted in him acting in an “outrageous way.”
Passing sentence, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said Northern Ireland has been “plagued” by riots which result in both police officers sustaining injuries and those responsible being sent to jail.