A DISTRICT Judge has said he is now prepared to consider bail requests from men who have been arrested as part of the ongoing Loyalist feud in Ards and North Down.

Addressing Ards Magistrates’ Court yesterday morning, Judge Mark Hamill said because the cases are going to the Crown Court and are unlikely to be heard for some time, he is prepared to consider bail applications for those currently on remand in prison.

At the same hearing the judge released three of the men who have been charged in connection with the feud, but he imposed conditions.

Mr Hamill said he has ‘significant’ concerns about the timescales involved in the case as those on remand could ‘languish’ in custody until 2024 before the cases come to court.

In a statement read to the court, he said he draws a distinction between those charged with affray and unlawful assembly and those charged with more serious offences like ‘intimidation and serious assault in the context of a deadly, violent, feud.

He said he was drawing a distinction between those he described as ‘foot soldiers and those who are more deeply involved in what amounts to an attack on the rule of law in Newtownards and north Down’.

The judge said there had been two attacks on the court building in Newtownards, the first being a threat to kill a ‘named individual embroiled in this feud’.

Judge Hamill added: “As District Judge for Newtownards, sitting in that same Ards Court that had been defaced, I had the temerity to remark upon that first attack, describing the placing of a threat to kill on the wall of this court as an attack on the rule of law in Newtownards”.

He continued: “It may well be that my remarks gave offence to some of the more sensitive of those involved in what the police describe as a drugs turf war because following those remarks there was a second more serious attack on this court”.

In his statement to the court the judge did not give specific details of that second incident but that was a reference to windows being smashed in the building and graffiti naming himself along with what appeared to be a gun crosshair.

Judge Hamill went on: “Now, if I gave offence by saying that an attack on the court building substantially raised the ante, I can only say that I must be doing something right.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to make it clear that I regard the drug dealers of whatever stripe or whatever community background as parasites preying on the full community. So hopefully no drug dealer, no drug dealing organisation, has been left unoffended”.

Judge Hamill said in the context of the attacks on the court and in the context of an ongoing feud between ‘drug gangs as described by police’, he said it was difficult to see how the loyalist-feud related charges could be dealt with anywhere but in the Crown Court.

The judge said he had received several references from mothers and wives about the impact on families of people being on remand and ‘given those concerns’ he said he would hear bail applications. 

Judge Hamill said loyalists were involved in the feud and he asked: “What are they loyal to?”

The judge said that, according to the police, the answer was they were ‘loyal to the bottom line’.

Later in the sitting the judge granted bail to three of the men charged in connection with the feud but he warned they had ‘better cling to bail like limpets’.

However, he imposed conditions including barring the three from north Down and Newtownards and they are to have no association with co-accused.

Passports also have to be surrendered and they have to report to police stations.

Those given bail were Samuel Coulter (57), William Robert McCormick (48) and Ryan Johnston (30).

The judge warned if there were bail breaches people would be returned to custody.

The cases were adjourned to August 30.