North Down Loyalist feud: Attempt to threaten judge branded ‘unprecedented’

An attempt to intimidate a judge by daubing graffiti on a courthouse wall is “unprecedented”, a senior judicial colleague declared today.

Lord Justice Treacy spoke out after prosecutors said the painted reference to District Judge Mark Hamill and smashing of windows was motivated by an ongoing loyalist feud in North Down.

He also rejected a High Court application by one of those charged in connection with the dispute compassionate bail to go on holiday to Spain, describing it as “a non-starter”.

Read more: Threatening graffiti with judge’s name appears on NI court building

Samuel Coulter, 57, is currently in custody on counts of affray and unlawful assembly over a gathering in the Weavers Grange area of Newtownards on April 6.

Up to 60 men entered the estate, some wearing masks, and removed a number of South East Antrim UDA murals from properties.

Coulter was allegedly among the ringleaders in an incident linked to the fall-out between rival factions, according to the prosecution.

Newtownards Courthouse in Co Down where the name of district judge Mark Hamill was daubed alongside a crosshair

Earlier this week graffiti naming Judge Hamill, who has been dealing with related cases, appeared on the walls of Newtownards Courthouse alongside an image of crosshairs.

A number of windows were also smashed in the attack.

Denouncing it as an existential threat to the rule of law in the town, he has vowed not to be intimidated.

As Newtownards man Coulter mounted a bid for temporary release to go on the family holiday to Spain, Crown lawyer Adrian Higgins claimed the application was completely without merit.

He set out how Judge Hamill has already refused permission and also been targeted in the graffiti incident.

“Police believe the motivation for those attacks is part of the ongoing feud,” Mr Higgins told the High Court.

“It demonstrates a concerted effort by one faction to intimidate another and has caused great fear within the community of Ards and north Down.”

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Lord Justice Treacy explained how he had learned of the incident through press reports.

“That must be unprecedented, for intimidation of a judge to have taken place in that way… [by] the graffiti that is alleged to have been made at Newtownards Court,” he said.

Counsel for Coulter, Patrick Taylor, was equally critical of the menacing development.

“It’s absolutely outrageous, there is no dispute about that,” he acknowledged.

“One can only commend District Judge Hamill for the forthright manner in which he opposed any attempt to intimidate him.”

Referring to the alleged gathering in Weavers Grange, he argued that Coulter had attended what he believed was a peaceful protest.

But refusing the defendant’s request, Lord Justice Treacy emphasised compassionate bail is usually limited to a family bereavement or serious illness.

“The application that has been made is unheard of,” he said.

“It’s a total non-starter and if it were granted solicitors would be queuing up in Maghaberry to identify clients who wanted to go off for a fortnight’s holiday in Spain or some other equally salubrious location.”

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