Loyalist campaigner refused bail

Willie Frazer in Belfast in January. He was today refused bail after being accused of encouraging or assistng offences in the Union flag protests. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire.

Willie Frazer in Belfast in January. He was today refused bail after being accused of encouraging or assistng offences in the Union flag protests. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire.

Fri, Mar 1, 2013, 00:00

A prominent loyalist campaigner involved in Union flag protests in Northern Ireland has been refused bail after being accused of encouraging or assisting offences.

Willie Frazer (52), faces six charges linked to the ongoing demonstrations. They include taking part in an un-notified public procession, obstructing traffic and possessing a Taser stun gun, which the court heard he thought was a cattle prod.

Belfast district judge Mervyn Bates refused bail after the PSNI said there was a risk he might reoffend.

The courtroom was packed, with a supporter ejected for unfurling a Union flag and loud applause from the public gallery for the defendant. There was a heavy security presence.

A police officer told the court: “Police believe the defendant will continue to encourage members of the public by way of public speaking, engaging with members of the press and engaging in protest.”

He added many protests have descended into serious public disorder, damage to property, injury to police and significant damage to the economy of Northern Ireland.

“The defendant clearly states during his interviews and public speeches he has been asked to address protesters on a number of occasions,” the officer stated.

“These speeches have often been inflammatory and circulated by the media and social media.”

Loyalists have taken part in a parade from east Belfast to the City Hall on Saturdays to hold a flag protest.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard Frazer, who appeared today wearing a red jacket and jeans and spoke to say he did not understand the charges, was not accused of organising the parades. The campaigner for victims of republican terrorism is from Tandragee Road, Markethill, Co Armagh.

His solicitor Richard Smith said: “It is the defendant’s case that he did not believe at any stage that he was involved in an unnotified parade.”

The charges, which all happened earlier this year, included encouraging or assisting offences by addressing a public assembly at Donegall Square North, Belfast (beside the City Hall), capable of encouraging or assisting the commission of the offence of participating in an unnotified public procession.

Others were:

* Taking part in an unnotified public procession;

:* Obstructing traffic in a public place;

* Possession of a prohibited weapon, a Taser stun gun.

Mr Smith applied for bail and said his client was suffering from cancer and did not pose a risk of reoffending. He added he could not be imprisoned for contacting the press, which the district judge accepted.

The lawyer said the stun gun was found during a search at Mr Frazer’s house after he took it from another individual.

“He initially thought it was a cattle prod,” he said.

The judge said the harm the protests were causing to the economy in Northern Ireland was not a legitimate objection to bail. But he ruled he was not a suitable candidate for immediate release.

Mr Bates remanded him in custody until March 22nd, to reappear before the court via video link, but told the accused he was free to apply to the High Court for bail. Frazer said he would rather stay in prison.

A member of the public at the court was escorted out after unfurling a Union flag. Frazer was led away by prison officers to loud applause from the public gallery.