The arrest of a Democratic Unionist councillor for posting a controversial Facebook comment has been branded by the party as a "sensationalist PR stunt" after it was confirmed the case against her has been dropped.
Ruth Patterson, a former deputy lord mayor of Belfast, expressed her delight after the charge she was facing was withdrawn in Belfast Magistrates Court, claiming it marked the beginning of the rest of her life.
The 57-year-old was detained in August by police investigating remarks she made on the social networking site in response to a fictional news post which reported that an indiscriminate gun and bomb attack, killing a number of senior Sinn Fein members, had taken place in Castlederg in Co Tyrone.
Commenting on the post, Ms Patterson wrote: ''Who cares how we would be judged, we would have done a great service to Northern Ireland and the world...''
She added: ''Would I shed a tear? No. Would I loose (sic) a night's sleep? No, would I really worry about what anyone else thought? No.''
The former nurse and retired Ulster Defence Regiment member, who issued a public apology when her online comments came to light, was charged with sending a grossly offensive electronic communication.
Confirming the withdrawal of the charge today, prosecutors said Ms Patterson had instead received a warning.
Flanked by supporters outside court after this morning's brief hearing, the councillor said: "I am delighted and thrilled that this case has finally been put to bed."
She thanked her legal team and her party for "standing by" her.
"But most of all I thank my loyalist people who stand here today with me shoulder to shoulder," she added.
"We are unbowed, unbroken and 100% united in loyalty to our Queen and country. Today is the beginning of the rest of my life and I look forward to it."
In a statement, the DUP said: "Alderman Ruth Patterson's arrest was sensationalist with officers arriving at her place of work. She was held in custody, had her house raided and had her telephone and computer removed.
"Ultimately, with all charges being withdrawn it is hard not to conclude that Ruth's arrest and indeed the entire investigation was nothing more than a PR stunt and a waste of resources."
The party stressed that the councillor's Facebook comments had been unacceptable.
"Alderman Patterson has apologised for her remarks, accepted they were well below the standard expected of a public representative and not in keeping with the DUP's values and ethos," said a DUP spokesman.