Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Marie Stopes clinic head Dawn Purvis left frightened for her safety by pro-life charity chief, court told

Dawn Purvis of the Marie Stopes Centre leaves court yesterday
Mother-of-three Bernadette Smyth worked in retail until 1997 when she decided to leave work and use her savings to set up the anti-abortion campaign group Precious Life

A Marie Stopes clinic director was left "very frightened" for her personal safety following alleged harassment by the head of an anti-abortion charity, a Belfast court has heard.

Precious Life campaigner Bernie Smyth, from Suffolk Road in Ballymena, denies harassing former PUP MLA Dawn Purvis outside her city centre workplace on two occasions between January and February.

A Marie Stopes sexual and reproductive healthcare centre opened in Great Victoria Street in October 2012 amid protests from anti-abortion campaigners.

Ms Smyth is among those who distribute pro-life leaflets and "reach out" to women of child-bearing age accessing the multi-office building when Marie Stopes is open.

At a hearing in Belfast yesterday Ms Purvis told the court on January 9 following an exchange of words with Ms Smyth and other protesters she put her "flat palm up and said stop harassing me".

Ms Smyth is then alleged to have laughed in an "exaggerated" way before replying in an "American-Ballymena drawl" with "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

Ms Purvis told the court she was "left extremely shaken" and "very frightened for my personal safety".

The second alleged incident took place on February 13 after Ms Purvis' son had called to her office with a female friend.

Ms Purvis told the court after the pair left via the centre's front door one of the protesters chased after them.

She told the court she then shouted "leave them alone", at which point Ms Smyth began to laugh in an "intimidating and menacing way".

Defence lawyer Conor O'Kane told Ms Purvis he found it hard to believe a former PUP leader with links to those who "murdered and slaughtered people" could be afraid of Ms Smyth.

Mr O'Kane also suggested Ms Purvis had deliberately come down to the front door of her workplace and pointed her finger at Ms Smyth to provoke a reaction, as she knew she needed two incidents to form a harassment case.

Ms Purvis said: "That is not true." Legal issues arose during proceedings and the case has been adjourned until September 16.

The two women at centre of court case

Dawn Purvis is the programme director at Marie Stopes Northern Ireland.

The sexual and reproductive health centre opened in Belfast city centre in October 2012.

The range of services available include: short and long-term contraceptive options; emergency contraception; HIV testing; STI testing and treatment; ultrasound scanning; and medical abortion up to nine weeks' gestation, subject to strict legal criteria being met. Ms Purvis is a former MLA and ex-leader of the Progressive Unionist Party.

Bernadette Smyth is the director of Precious Life anti-abortion charity, founded in 1997.

It wants the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast to be closed.

Precious Life describes itself as "the largest pro-life group in Northern Ireland and the only pro-life group actively working on the streets every day".

According to its website, the 'Stop Marie Stopes' campaign is "to prevent them from committing criminal offences of abortion in Northern Ireland".

Legal case places abortion debate firmly in the spotlight 

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