Men cleared of disorderly behaviour at demolition protest

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Two men have been cleared of disorderly behaviour during a protest at the demolition of the former Hamilton shirt factory in Derry city centre.

Eamon O’Donnell (57) of Campion Court and 23-year-old Paul Hughes, of Otter Park, faced one charge of disorderly behaviour on January 13.

Derry Magistrate’s Court heard evidence from two police officers who were on duty in the John Street area helping to control the flow of traffic.

The demolition of the factory was underway when the officers saw two men - O’Donnell and Hughes - walking towards the “operating excavators.”

Security staff approached O’Donnell and Hughes to try to move them from the area, however they refused to do so.

The officers then spoke to the men, who were holding a banner and had provisions including a headtorch and sandwiches with them.

The officer revealed that when he approached the men and asked them to move on for their own safety, the safety of the demolition workers and that of police Hughes told him to “f*** off.”

O’Donnell told another officer that he had a right to hold a peaceful protest against the “destruction of the city of culture and the city’s heritage.”

Officers invited the men to move their protest to a safer place out of the way of falling masonry but they refused.

The court also heard evidence from O’Donnell, a youth worker, who said he was very passionate about the “cultural heritage of the city” particularly the working class heritage which he saw as his “birthright.”

He denied that he was disorderly and said he was peacefully protesting against the “wanton destruction” of the building which he wished to preserve.

Dusmissing the charges, District Judge Barney McElholm said the courts had to be “very careful” about interfering with the right to protest.

He said that it is one of the “mainstays of a democracy for ordinary decent citizens to have the right to protest in a reasonable way against what they see to be an injustice.”

The judge said while O’Donnell and Hughes were persistent in their efforts they didn’t offer any violence and he would be “loathe” to call their behaviour disorderly.