Northern Ireland

Jamie Bryson warned about union flag protests says ACC Will Kerr

Jamie Bryson Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption A judge was told Mr Bryson believes himself to be the victim of a political prosecution

A senior police officer has told a court he warned flag protester Jamie Bryson of the "criminal justice consequences" of un-notified public processions.

Mr Bryson, of Rosepark, Donaghadee, County Down, is contesting charges of participating in four un-notified public processions during January and February 2013.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said he agreed to meet Jamie Bryson and loyalist community representatives.

He said he did so to try to ensure their protests did not break the law.

As a judge heard 24-year-old Mr Bryson believes himself to be the victim of a political prosecution, ACC Kerr was called by the defence to testify at his trial for alleged involvement in a series of illegal marches in Belfast.

He is believed to be the highest ranking officer to give evidence in a magistrates' court case in Northern Ireland.

Mass protests were being staged at the time following a decision to restrict the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Mr Bryson has said he was unaware the protests could have been unlawful.

ACC Kerr recalled a meeting he and other senior police commanders held with loyalist community representatives on 29 January, 2013.

At the time he was in overall charge of the PSNI response to the flag protests.

He told a judge Mr Bryson was among Ulster People's Forum representatives who attended the meeting.

"We made it very clear throughout... they knew the parades were un-notified and therefore they knew there would be a criminal justice consequence," ACC Kerr said.

According to his account, those in the room were seeking to avoid a situation where large numbers of young loyalists would end up with criminal records.

'Unwillingness to accept responsibility'

Pressed by a prosecutor, ACC Kerr said he was sure Mr Bryson had been present when the issue of notifying the authorities about any public processions was discussed.

Referring to the level of publicity surrounding the protests and a need to submit the relevant forms, he added: "There was an unwillingness, in my opinion, to accept the responsibility that came with that profile."

A defence lawyer said police loudspeaker warnings given on protest days were drowned out by the crowd. Bryson had not been shown to be anywhere near the locations of the announcements anyway, he said.

He also questioned why police waited so long to arrest and charge his client.

"Mr Bryson perceives himself as being the victim of a political prosecution in this case," he said.

"The reason for that is the timing of his arrest comes very quickly after a meeting between police officers and senior members of Sinn Féin."

Judgment was reserved in the case following closing submissions.