A LAW originally introduced to deal with radical fundamentalists in Britain is being used against South Armagh man Willie Frazer. The 52-year-old was remanded in custody at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday charged with encouraging others to commit crime at a loyalist flag protest

Remanded in custody: Willie Frazer

It is believed to be the first time that the charge, part of the 2007 Serious Crime Act, has been used in the North of Ireland. The controversial campaigner, who appeared on the court listings as William Fredrick Frazer, is also charged with three counts of taking part in an unnotified parade, one of obstructing traffic, and illegal possession of a Taser stun-gun. Mr Frazer, who has been a spokesman for flag protesters since the start of the dispute in early December, was arrested at his home on Tandragee Road on Wednesday. The majority of the offences are alleged to have been committed under the Public Processions Act over the last two months, during weekly protests held at the front of Belfast City Hall.Police objected to bail on the grounds that Mr Frazer would reoffend given that there are further planned protests. An officer who connected him to the case also said there were concerns that through public speaking and interviews with the media he would encourage others to commit further criminal offences. A small crowd of supporters gathered in the public gallery of Court 10, including North Belfast loyalist and Ulster People’s Forum spokesman Bill Hill.

One man was removed from the court by security officials for waving a Union Flag. Acting on behalf of Mr Frazer, barrister Richard Smyth argued that his client had urged the crowd at the city hall to ” keep it peaceful “. ” What this applicant is alleged to have said at the scene wasn’t in any way inflammatory,” he said. The lawyer said his client had taken the Taser from young people involved in a dispute in Markethill several years ago. ” He believed it was a cattle prodder that didn’t work,” Mr Smyth said. ” This man’s profile, and I accept he does have a profile, has brought him before  the court. ” At no point was he aware that the protests were unlawful.” He added that to date no-one had been charged with organising the flags protests. Mr Smyth also drew the notice to the court to an Irish News  interview with Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr last week in which the senior officer said he would welcome ” judicial clarity ” around the Public Processions Act.

District Judge Mervyn Bates, sitting in Belfast’s Laganside Court, said he would not be happy preventing a member of society from speaking to the media. However, he added that due to the current climate and the risk of reoffending, Mr Frazer was not a suitable candidate for bail. ” The grounds of objection are founded on the frequency of this kind of offence at the current time and the harm it is doing to the economy of this country “, he said. He did, however, advise the defendant that he could apply for bail at the High Court. As he was being taken to the cells by court security Mr Frazer shouted : ” I’d rather be with the crooks in there than the ones out here running the government.” Supporters cheered as he was led away. Mr Frazer was remanded in custody to Maghaberry prison to appear again in four weeks ‘ time.




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