Northern Ireland

Flag protester Jamie Bryson has curfew restrictions eased

Jamie Bryson
Image caption Jamie Bryson has been a prominent figure in the union flag protests

Leading union flag protester Jamie Bryson can stay out later at night to help his football team's end of season push for success, a judge has ruled.

A curfew imposed on the Ulster Peoples' Forum spokesman is to be temporarily relaxed so he can play in two matches for amateur side 1st Bangor FC.

Senior police opposed the move.

Bryson is on bail charged with offences connected to the controversy over restricting the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

They involve allegations of encouraging or assisting offences, and taking part in an un-notified public procession.

Bryson, 23, of Rosepark, Donaghadee, County Down, was released from custody last month on tight conditions, including a ban on being within four miles of City Hall except for court appearances.

Well placed

He must not take part in protests either, or give speeches or make comment on social media before, during or after any protests about the flag dispute.

Last week he failed in a bid to be allowed to attend an Ulster Volunteer Force centenary parade in east Belfast.

He returned to court on Thursday seeking to have his 20:00 BST curfew varied for two of his side's final matches.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard the team is well placed going into the last part of the season.

A defence barrister said: "It's an entirely sporting matter.

"The position is Mr Bryson plays amateur football for 1st Bangor, there are effectively three fixtures remaining and the application is simply to allow an extension of his curfew for tonight and next Tuesday to allow him to participate in both.

"The matches are kicking off at 7pm and Mr Bryson is very concerned he would be in breach of his bail."

Objecting to the application, a police officer told the court she had received directions from senior police.

"Police recognise it's a sporting event and not associated with the flag dispute, but police believe the defendant has an influential role over other young people."

District Judge John Meehan pointed to the potential impact on others.

"You are removing somebody from a team. Did the senior officer consider that?" he asked.

Granting the application, Judge Meehan ordered the curfew to be relaxed until 21:30 BST for the two matches.

Adjourned

Appearing alongside Bryson in the dock was another high-profile flag protester, Jim Dowson.

The 48-year-old, of The Burn Road, Comber, County Down, faces charges of encouraging or assisting offenders and taking part in an un-notified public procession.

Updating the court on both men's cases, a prosecution lawyer sought another six weeks to allow ongoing evidence gathering.

Dowson's solicitor expressed surprise at the situation, telling the court police had claimed to have the evidence to charge his client.

Both cases were adjourned until June.