AN Independent Republican councillor has lost his appeal against a conviction for being disorderly inside a council meeting when he threatened to shove a glass bottle of Glens of Antrim spring water down the throat of the husband of a Traditional Unionist Voice councillor.
43-year-old Padraig McShane of Whitehall Avenue, Ballycastle, was appealing his disorderly behaviour conviction following an incident which happened on the night a loyalist flag protest was held outside the then offices of the former Moyle District Council in Ballycastle in 2012.
McShane - who was subsequently elected to Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council - had denied the charge but was convicted after a contest in May and was fined £500. At the County Court in Antrim on Tuesday his appeal against conviction failed although the fine was reduced to £100.
The court heard he had a previous criminal record including disorderly behaviour and assault convictions and that he had attended anger management courses after which, according to McShane, his character has been “first class”.
The County Court heard from witness Stephen McKillop who said he some times travelled to council meetings with his wife Sharon, including for the reason that there is a “good fish and chip shop in Ballycastle”.
As he was outside the council chamber he said he was approached by McShane who said: “Keep you running you wee b-----d ye, you and that wee bitch of a wife of yours’.”
Mr McKillop said he was shocked and replied: “I will not be running from you”.
Mr McKillop said when he was later in the public gallery at the Council meeting, McShane approached him and said: “We know all about you, you better watch yourself” and said he took it as a “serious threat”.
Mr McKillop said the councillor then progressed to his seat a short distance away and lifted a bottle of water and whilst drawing his hand back as if to throw it said: “I’ll split you with this bottle you wee b-----d”.
Mr McKillop said he put his hands up as he thought it was going to be thrown although it wasn’t..
He said the Council Chairperson, Ulster Unionist councillor Sandra Hunter - who the court heard did not make a statement to police - said: “Right Cllr McShane sit down and behave” and the meeting progressed as normal.
Later, Mr McKillop said he was speaking to another man outside the council chamber when McShane “burst” between them sand said: “Get the f--k out of the way”.
He said he was “totally unaware” there was a loyalist flags protest outside the meeting and denied a suggestion from defence barrister Philip McNally that he was annoyed that McShane had told loyalists no flag would be erected in Ballycastle and as a result tried to “implicate” the councillor in “disreputable behaviour”.
Mr McKillop denied he had told McShane: “We know where you live, you will be done” and he denied McShane only responded by telling him he would be put out of the meeting if he didn’t “shut your mouth”.
Former SDLP councillor Catherine McCambridge told the County Court there was a tea break between meetings and she was chatting with the Council Chairperson “when I heard her intake her breath and say ‘these boys are going to fight’.”
Mrs McCambridge said she then saw Cllr McShane getting to his feet with a glass bottle in his hand and looking towards the public gallery he said aggressively: “If you don’t shut your mouth I will shove this bottle down your throat or f’ing throat or something along those lines.”
She said the Council Chairperson then said “settle down boys” and the incident ended and the meeting continued.
During defence cross-examination, Mrs McCambridge said since 2012 she had problems with her memory but that the statement she made at the time was correct.
She denied a defence suggestion that the bottle incident did not happen and that she held a “grudge” against McShane because of a number of incidents including her husband Sean running for the SDLP being defeated by McShane in a by-election.
Mrs McCambridge said the bottle incident did occur and said she would not be in court giving evidence otherwise and she was “telling the truth”.
In the witness box McShane claimed Mr McKillop had approached him outside the council chamber and brushed against him but he said he considered it as a case of “small-man syndrome” and he also said he believed alleged comments by Mr McKillop in the council chamber were down to “bravado” on the night.
He said there were around 18 people in the council chamber and he believed the allegations against him were a “vendetta” and “politicking”.
He denied he told Mr Killop to keep running; denied saying he knew all about him; and said the bottle incident “never happened”.
He alleged the court case was pursued to try to ensure he was not able to stand for election to the new Causeway Coast & Glens Council on which he sits to pave the way for the SDLP to get a seat.
McShane was accused by a prosecution barrister of “throwing mud in the hope that some sticks”.
Former Sinn Fein councillor Colum Thompson gave evidence for the first time in the case and said he heard Mr McKillop say something to McShane who replied “shut your mouth or you will be put out of here” and at no point did he stand up with a bottle.
He said he decided to come forward because after reading publicity about the earlier court and he wanted to convey what really happened on the night as he did not believe the truth was being told by prosecution witnesses.
The court heard that initially the Public Prosecution Service decided there should be no prosecution but after the case was raised by TUV leader Jim Allister that decision was reversed.
Judge Desmond Marrinan QC said it was “rare enough” that someone from the nationalist community would speak up on behalf of someone on the right of unionism and he said he accepted Mr McCambridge’s evidence as she had spoken to police at the time.
He said there was “disorderly behaviour” and although it did not lead to any violence clearly there were remarks from both sides during a night when tensions were high.
The judge upheld the conviction from the lower court but reduced the fine to £100.
Afterwards McShane said: “It is an unholy alliance between the TUV and the SDLP locally that convicted me today. Certainly I am going to review my legal options again because I know exactly what took place on the night and I certainly want the truth to be put out there.
“Overarching all of this is the very real thing that this was decided by legality that it wasn’t worth pursuing and only on the intervention of Jim Allister, with the support of the SDLP, did I get convicted.”