A FORMER RAF pilot who kick-started the Union flag protests last year has been acquitted of assaulting a police officer in Belfast.
Prominent PUP man Jonny Harvey was also cleared of disorderly behaviour and resisting police during a hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
He had been accused of pushing a senior officer following a verbal exchange in the east of the city last December.
However, District Judge Ken Nixon acquitted him of both charges during a contest hearing saying that proof beyond all reasonable doubt was required for a conviction.
Protesters had assembled on the Newtownards Road to oppose the decision to limit the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.
Mr Harvey, 32, of Lendrick Street in the city, was not part of the gathering but arrived in the area to meet his father.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard he agreed to speak with police as a community representative in a bid to defuse tensions.
It was claimed that an officer, using foul language, told his father he should be watching Glentoran football team instead.
Mr Harvey told how he challenged the disputed remark, describing the officer as “a disgrace”, but denied police claims that he pushed anyone.
According to his account he was then grabbed and dragged to a police Land Rover, with fingers put into his mouth in a fish-hook manoeuvre.
After hearing both sides the judge dismissed all charges against Mr Harvey.
Following his acquittal Mr Harvey spoke of his relief and said he would take a complaint to the Policing Board.
“I’m glad justice has been done because I think the loyalist community has felt the system has been against them in cases where people have been caught up in things and arrested without having done anything wrong,” he said.
“This will be a confidence booster to the loyalist community.”
He said that a complaint he lodged with the Police Ombudsman was not upheld.
“I plan to make representations to members of the Policing Board about policing and justice,” he said.
Last December he started the Union flag protest on social media network sites.
The following month he resigned as leader of the Ulster Protestant Voice (UPV) and joined the PUP.
The former RAF pilot admitted that he had not expected trouble to break out following the vote on December 3 by Belfast City Council to only fly the Union flag on the City Hall on 17 designated days.
The plan of the UPV was to organise peaceful street protests across the province to show their opposition to the council decision.
However, unsavoury elements latched onto the street protests, attacking police and property with missiles and petrol bombs.
Harvey is being groomed to stand in east Belfast as a PUP candidate for elections.
Mr Harvery used social media networks to muster more support for the street protests despite calls from political leaders to bring them to an end.
Hours earlier he admitted to UTV Live that he had “lost control” of the protests.
However, Mr Harvery later went on Facebook to address his group calling for more people to be deployed onto the streets.
Of his decision to join the PUP, he said: “This has not been an easy decision, but circumstances have dictated that I must make this move sooner, rather than later.
“It has been an absolute privilege to represent this group over the past number of months.
“Although I’m leaving the committee, I would like to remain as a member of the group and will of course always be on hand to help in any way I can.”