Northern Ireland

Jim Dowson: Loyalist campaigner sentenced over flag protests

Jim Dowson Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The court heard that Jim Dowson was captured on video taking part in three of the unlawful processions

Loyalist campaigner Jim Dowson has been given a three-month suspended jail sentence for offences linked to union flag protests in Northern Ireland.

Fifty-year-old Dowson pleaded guilty to three counts of participating in unlawful public processions in 2013.

The offences occurred during protests at the decision to limit the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

The judge ruled out imposing community service after hearing Dowson is under threat from two different sources.

Prosecutors said anyone involved in the marches in January and February 2013 broke the law because prior notice required under legislation was not given to police and the Parades Commission.

Present

Demonstrators coming in from the east of the city passed sensitive interface locations, with disorder breaking out on some occasions.

Although it was not suggested that Dowson was involved in any trouble, Belfast Magistrates' Court heard he was captured on video taking part in three of the processions.

He was seen walking at the centre of one large crowd, and then at the head of two other marches, it was claimed.

A prosecutor said Dowson, originally from Scotland but with an address in Comber, County Down, had initially denied any wrongdoing.

"He accepted being present but disputed that they constituted a procession," the lawyer told the court.

"He said he was an Orangeman but denied knowing any notification document had to go to the Parades Commission."

Risk

A defence lawyer said that Dowson should be given credit for pleading guilty rather than fighting the charges.

The court was told that he had resisted any chance to "bang the drum" by fighting the allegations.

The defence argued that Dowson was not involved in any disorder, instead urging others not to break the law.

During the hearing, the judge questioned Dowson's suitability for community service.

But she rejected that option after hearing how the apparent threats against him could lead to others being put at risk.

Sentencing Dowson to a three-month jail term, suspended for 18-months, the judge said she considered the offences to be "serious".

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