Northern Ireland

Young Conway Volunteers band cleared of St Patrick's Church breach

Young Conway Volunteers band passes St Patrick's Church Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Young Conway Volunteers band passes St Patrick's Church

Seventeen members of a loyalist flute band have been cleared of defying a ban on them marching past a Catholic Church in Belfast city centre.

They had been charged with failing to comply with a Parades Commission ban on the Young Conway Volunteers passing St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street.

It happened during a Royal Black Institution march in August 2012.

However, a judge dismissed the case because it could not be proved they knew about the determination.

A month before the march, the Shankill Road-based band had been filmed walking in circles outside the church.

The band had denied claims that it was playing the sectarian Famine Song during the Twelfth of July demonstration.

After that incident, the Parades Commission ruled that it should not march past the church.

Belfast Magistrates' Court was shown footage of the band marching on the prohibited part of the route.

Defence lawyers argued that members had been unaware they were banned from marching there.

A defence solicitor said that either the Parades Commission or the Royal Black Institution could have directly informed the defendants, who included three youths.

'Clue'

He also challenged police efforts to notify his clients and suggested that signs erected on the day would have been blocked out by crowds.

"The situation is there was a particularly high presence around the Young Conway Volunteers that day," he said.

"Even two people standing in front of one of those signs renders it useless."

A prosecution lawyer said there were allegations that band members had refused to accept a letter from the police.

The court heard claims that one unidentified person did accept it, but then crumpled it up and threw it on the ground.

The prosecution lawyer said notification signs had been placed along the route, adding that a group of people had been on the road holding a banner, "Respect St Patrick's Church".

He added: "The prosecution say that's another clue for the defendants.

"They all point towards them having known what they were doing."

However, the judge said the prosecution had failed to reach the required standard of proof.

He referred to the evidence of thousands of people having been on the street and potentially "obliterating" the signs.

Acquitting all 17 accused, he said: "The standard of beyond reasonable doubt has to be established.

"On these facts the case against these defendants is dismissed."