Court in County Down hears man said neighbour's use of Orange paint was 'making a mockery of my religious beliefs'

Court in County Down hears man said neighbour's use of Orange paint was 'making a mockery of my religious beliefs'

A JUDGE dismissed a charge of 'harassment' being faced by a Holywood man in a case in which a neighbour had alleged that the use of Orange-coloured paint to write 'Keep Off' on a fence was 'making a mockery of my religious beliefs'.

Details emerged during a contested hearing at Newtownards Magistrates Court where Gary Mullan (61), of Park Avenue, denied a charge of harassment in relation to alleged incidents between August 2020 and July 2021.

Thomas Aakhus told the court Mr Mullan had put a fence up which was "high enough" to impact on sunlight at his bay window.

A defence lawyer said the accused said he built the fence because he had a new car and "stones and things came over the wall".

The defence lawyer alleged Mr Aakhus made a "rude gesture" to the defendant's wife but Mr Aakhus told the court:  "That's untrue".

The court heard Mr Mullan added more slats to the fence and Mr Aakhus put silicone on screws on his side of the fence.

The defence lawyer said it was in the context of "interfering" with his fence that Mr Mullan wrote 'Keep Off'.

The judge read from the Mr Aakhus' statement which said: 'I take insult that Mr Mullan was making a mockery of my religious beliefs by painting this offensive remark in orange paint'.

Judge Hamill said: "Seriously? That is, I'm afraid, hyper-sensitivity. To be offended by 'Keep Off,' to regard that as offensive and then to chose to be offended by the fact that ''Keep Off' was written in orange paint. You think that is a sectarian element to this? That, I'm afraid, is a nonsense, it is hyper-sensitivity."

The judge, Court News NI can report, said he had been dealing with "neighbour disputes for years" and added: "I'm thoroughly sick and tired of them".

He added that "sooner or later" he was going to order everyone on both sides of each dispute to be be "bound over".

Mr Aakhus' wife Roisin told the court a ball had gone into Mr Mullan's property and it had not been returned.

In relation to other alleged incidents, she said: "I felt very concerned for my family, for my children. His behaviour was not normal".

The judge noted reference was made to the defendant allegedly 'waving in sarcastic manner' and Roisin Aakhus said it was "very intimidating".

Judge Hamill said "99 percent" of neighbour disputes were "tiresome, trivial, tedious".

He added: "The flavour of this supposed harassment. A ball went over a fence. It happens in every garden in every street in Northern Ireland day in and day out but this apparently is supposed to be harassment. The ball is not returned, nor was it asked for.

"A fence went up; a sign was painted on the fence, 'Keep Off'. This was described in Mr Aakhus' statement as 'offensive'. Adding to the 'offence' is 'Keep Off' is painted in orange paint, supposedly a sectarian element introduced.

"Mr Aakhus is complaining about the orangeness of the paint. This is were the court says 'catch yourself on'.

"Again the flavour of harassment is 'waving at the complainant either mockingly or sarcastically'."

The judge added that the "high water mark" of the case was the "suggestion that at one stage the defendant allegedly said 'You better watch yourself'."

Judge Hamill told those assembled in the courtroom: "Now, I'm going to warn you all. If you come back and take up the time of this court with this childishness, I'm going to bind everybody over to keep the peace. All of you catch yourselves on. The case is dismissed".