A 30-year-old County Antrim man has been convicted of 'doing a provocative act' by torching a loyalist bonfire in the run up to 'The Twelfth' last year.
A witness alleged Peter McCoy, of Connaught Road near Randalstown, was drinking from a tin of beer whilst standing beside his car which was playing "very loud rap music" and that he just "smiled" when asked if he had torched the structure at Ladyhill between Antrim town and Kells.
The witness added: "It just looked like he was having his own party and was happy to be there and just made no effort to leave".
The Ladyhill bonfire is traditionally built at the side of a crossroads and a court heard that last year the witness said a sign said it was due to officially be lit by the organisers around 9pm or 10pm on July 10 "and that's when I knew it was being lit a bit too early" at around 7.45pm.
McCoy denied charges but during a contest at Ballymena Magistrates Court he was convicted of doing the provocative act and driving with excess alcohol in his breath.
A man told the court he was driving past and "just as I was approaching the bonfire I just seen this big flame coming from the right hand side just along the ground and then the whole bonfire just went up in flames".
He added that although he did not see a man present light the flame there was only one person there, Court News NI can report.
The witness added: "The flame was going on the ground from where the person was standing at his car; going in a line towards the bonfire and then the whole bonfire just sort of went up very quick as if it was petrol put on it".
He said he stopped as "something is not right here" and asked the man if he had lit the bonfire and took photos on his phone.
The witness said there was music "blaring" from the vehicle and the man was holding a tin of Carlsberg.
The witness said when the man started walking towards him he left and raised the alarm with a local who said he knew somebody connected with the bonfire organisers and then the witness phoned police.
A short time later he noticed the bonfire "nearly completely burnt" and later still the Fire Service was present.
McCoy told the court he had gone for a drive to "clear my head" in the area of the bonfire after coming home from work and as he passed it was already on fire.
He said he stopped and got of his car and was going to ring the Fire Service as it was a "dangerous obstacle"ablaze close to a road.
He claimed he was drinking a can of Sprite from his lunchbox and then a vehicle drove past and a "complete stranger" began taking photos of him.
McCoy believed this was "hostile" and he then had gone home and "started drinking".
He told the court he "didn't light the fire" and as there was rubbish there it could have been sparked by sunlight on glass or tin foil or been caused by a cigarette butt in "human error" as it was the "main road from Kells to Antrim" and was a "popular walking destination".
A prosecutor told the defendant: "I put it to you that you did light the fire; that these bonfires are contentious; and that by lighting that bonfire you were engaging in an act that was likely to lead to a breach of the peace that close to the 12th of July".
McCoy said he believed the witness had lit the bonfire and "tried to frame somebody, mainly me. I was just returning back from a peaceful walk".
A defence lawyer claimed there was no evidence of any accelerant being found and there was insufficient evidence that McCoy had lit the bonfire.
Convicting the defendant, District Judge Nigel Broderick said the witness gave his evidence in a "very straight forward way".
The judge said he "somewhat surprised by the defendant's evidence that he blames (the witness) for starting the fire" as that not been mentioned earlier.
The judge said McCoy's evidence wasn't "very impressive" and there was no evidence that others were present at the bonfire.
Regarding the 'provocative act" the judge said he was satisfied there was a "circumstantial case sufficient for me to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Anyone that sets fire to a bonfire before it scheduled to go off, I think at the very least could expect a breach of the peace to be occasioned and I convict him accordingly".
Sentencing was put back and the case was adjourned to mid-April.
- Main picture: This is where the bonfire is held at Ladyhill. Picture: Google Maps.