8 January 2004 Edition

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DUP road blockers escape punishment

East Belfast Sinn Féin representative Joe O'Donnell has criticised the judge who on Tuesday gave absolute discharges to the DUP MP Peter Robinson (pictured) and his party colleague Ruth Patterson after they were found guilty of illegally blocking traffic on the Albertbridge Road to facilitate a loyalist event.

Crown Prosecutor Tessa Kitson told the court that the PSNI had became aware that loyalist residents in Cluan Place intended to hold a street party on Albertbridge Road, a main arterial route into and out of Belfast.

Kitson said a PSNI inspector had advised Robinson, former Roads Minister in the Stormont Executive, and Patterson, that authority had not been obtained to close the road, but both went into the middle of the road and blocked traffic while about 70 women and children set up stalls for a street party, causing major traffic disruption.

Robinson told the court that his purpose was to prevent violence from occurring in the area following a threat to bring several hundred loyalists onto the road if it was not closed.

Magistrate Sarah Creanor said she reluctantly felt Robinson and Patterson committed the offence of obstructing free passage along the road.

Joe O'Donnell, however, said the decision again exposed the "double standards and naked sectarian bigotry" of the Six-County judiciary.

"The two DUP members were found guilty of illegally blocking a main road in East Belfast yet were given absolute discharges and an apology from the judge for being forced to convict them," he said. "Contrast this with the treatment given to nationalists and their public representatives in similar circumstances. On countless occasions, particularly at times when Orange marches were being forced through nationalist areas, people blocking the road, including elected representatives, were beaten and then arrested by the PSNI. Many were then trailed through the courts and given stiff sentences."

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