Northern Ireland

Men involved in union flag riot jailed for six months

Two men who were "swept up" in serious rioting in east Belfast connected to the union flag protest have been jailed for six months each.

David Boyd, 19, and Frank Aiken, 22, had both pleaded guilty to rioting close to Central Station on 12 January.

Belfast Crown Court was told Boyd and Aiken were seen on CCTV footage throwing stones at police lines.

The judge repeated the warning that anyone involved in rioting "had to expect to go to prison".

The court heard both men became involved in rioting after attending a union flag protest at Belfast City Hall.

Following the protest over the council's decision to limit the number of days on which the union flag would be flown, crowds of up to 200 loyalists were walking back to east Belfast when they attacked police lines close to Central Station.

There was then, the court heard, hand-to-hand fighting and missiles being thrown between opposing factions at the interface with the Short Strand and then more rioting at Castlereagh Street that evening.

The police had deployed water cannon at certain parts of the day in an effort to quell the rioters who were attacking them with petrol bombs, fireworks and various missiles.

When arrested and interviewed, Boyd, from Donegall Pass and Aiken, from Roden Street, both in Belfast, confessed to attacking police.

Ordering the pair to serve half their sentences in custody and half on licence, the judge said there was "clearly a sectarian element" to the rioting during which 30 police officers had been injured and had caused a "substantial cost to the public purse".

He ruled that both men should serve half their one-year sentences in custody and half on licence.

"Perhaps those who organise these protests and call people onto the street should reflect that those who get swept up into the riot are the individuals who suffer the consequences," the judge added.