20 May 2005

BBC

Loyalist jailed over press event


Denis Cunningham wore a balaclava during UFF press conference

A member of a loyalist political group who admitted fronting a paramilitary press conference has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Denis Cunningham, 52, from Agnes Street in west Belfast, pleaded guilty to professing to be a member of the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Cunningham, a member of the Ulster Political Research Group, wore a mask during the January 2002 conference.

A Belfast Crown Court judge said he had been part of a "grotesque spectacle".

The court heard that Cunningham chaired the conference on 15 January 2002, wearing his glasses over a balaclava.

He said he was a member of the UFF and called on the loyalist Red Hand Defenders to "stand down" after the murder of Catholic postal worker, Daniel McColgan.

The Red Hand Defenders had previously been used as a cover name by the UFF.

Mask

Prosecution QC Paul Ramsey told the court the police investigation began after the BBC's Panorama programme alleged that Cunningham was the man behind the mask.

His voice was subsequently forensically linked to recordings taken of him speaking on behalf of the Ulster Political Research Group.

Mr Justice Gillen said the conference had been a "grotesque spectacle of masked and armed men surrounded by you arrogantly bestriding our TV screens... disfiguring our whole society".

Independent councillor Frank McCoubrey, Father Gary Donegan from Holy Cross Parish Church and Shankill Presbyterian minister Rev Mervyn Gibson told the court Cunningham had been "instrumental in advancing cross-community relations".

The judge said the sentence would have been longer if it had not been for this evidence.

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