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04 Jul 2022

Councillor fined after attending un-notified 'release valve' parade

Councillor fined after attending un-notified 'release valve' parade

Cllr Russell Watton was the only person prosecuted as a result of the parade.

A Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Councillor has been hit with a fine after pleading guilty to taking part in an un-notified parade last year.

Russell Watton, of Windyhall Park, Coleraine appeared via video link at Coleraine Magistrates Court for sentencing last week.

The parade in question had taken place on March 28 2021, at a time when tensions were raised with unionist opposition and protest at the Northern Ireland Protocal aspect of the Brexit process.

A decision not to prosecute participants in the funeral of Bobby Storey for contravening Covid-19 regulations had also caused anger among the unionist community.

During a spell of rioting in Coleraine, defence for Watton said he had been contacted by members of the PSNI asking him to use his influence to calm events and prevent rioting.

The defendant gave interviews to local press while the parade was underway, referring to the procession as a 'release valve' for tensions in the area.

The court heard how police had gathered evidence at the procession, identifying the defendant, who defence counsel said was the only person to be prosecuted as a result.

Defence for Watton told the court that in other instances, people had been lauded for helping to diffuse tensions, while the defendant had instead received a summons.

They said Watton had been an elected representative for eight years and involved in community work since 1989, which they said was a 'turning point' for the defendant.

Judge King said there was no suggestion that the defendant was an organiser of the procession, made no attempt to disguise his identity and in fact was keen to 'telegraph' that he had taken part.

He said the parade was not properly notified under the NI Public Processions Act of 1998, and fined the defendant £250 for his participation, alongside an offender's levy of £15.

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