Conditional discharge for man who produced 'imitation firearm' during Ulster flag incident in Whitehead

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A man who admitted possessing an imitation firearm when a ladder was placed against a lamp post on which an Ulster Flag was flying in Whitehead, has been given a one year conditional discharge.

Stephen Graham (67), of Islandmagee Road in Whitehead, committed the offence on June 7 this year. The charge was that 'without lawful authority or reasonable excuse had with you in a public place, namely Islandmagee Road, Whitehead, an imitation firearm'.

The accused appeared in the dock at Ballymena Magistrates' Court on Thursday and pleaded guilty. A video of the flag incident had previously been circulated widely on social media.

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A prosecutor said that around 9.20pm on Friday June 7 this year police received an online report from the defendant in which he said: 'I objected to a loyalist flag outside my front door. I was faced by intimidating behaviour and filmed when I removed the flag.’

The case was heard at Ballymena Magistrates Court. Photo by PacemakerThe case was heard at Ballymena Magistrates Court. Photo by Pacemaker
The case was heard at Ballymena Magistrates Court. Photo by Pacemaker

The prosecutor said a video clip was later posted on the social media site 'X' which showed a male aged in his 60s matching the defendant's description "climb up a ladder leaning against a lamp post".

The video was downloaded by police and, the court heard, "the male on the ladder then produces what appears to be a black handgun from his back and held it by the handle with the barrel pointing skyward and showed it to the person who was filming the incident. The male then appeared to tuck the handgun back into his rear waistband".

Police identified the location and called at the address.

The prosecutor said the defendant was arrested for "possession of a firearm and a pellet gun with a magazine attached was seized from the bedside locker in an upstairs bedroom of the property. The magazine contained a number of plastic pellets. A Northern Ireland flag was located in the front garden of the property and that was also seized".

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A defence barrister said the defendant was a 67-year-old retired BT manager who had no convictions and had "never been before the courts in his life".

He had been living at the current address for the last six years and, the barrister added, and "a large flag was erected on a lamp post at the front of his property which means that the view from his own front window is essentially shaded by this large flag".

The lawyer said the defendant had "asked some, shall we say, community representatives to remove the flag" but "that was shunned and was one of those situations that you either just had to like it or lump it".

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The barrister said the defendant "took exception to this and decided to go out one night, of his own volition, to remove the flag."

The lawyer continued: "There was a crowd had gathered for this and concerned for his own safety, looking back on it he should not have done what he did, but he had a plastic pellet gun and he thought that by brandishing that that may well assuage the crowd who had gathered."

The barrister said that after the flag had been removed by the defendant "the very next day a large group returned and put up even more flags".

The lawyer added: "So if anything he is the man who has lost out because number one, having had a blemish free record for 67 years he has now found himself before Your Worship; and he now has even more flags outside his house that he had before.

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"He realises that it one of these things, unfortunately, that you just have to accept in certain parts of this community that people are going to put flags on lamp posts and there is nothing that you can do about it".

The barrister said "I appreciate the seriousness of the case" but he did not believe Probation or Community Service would be suitable and "I don't believe it crosses the custody threshold".

He added that "given the nature of the incident, which was brought to the attention of the police by himself, that a fine may be appropriate".

Deputy District Judge Alan White told the defendant: "A remarkable set of circumstances, somebody of your age before a court for the first time."

He handed down a one-year conditional discharge and ordered the destruction of the imitation firearm.