Anti-abortion activist Bernadette Smyth faces jail over Dawn Purvis harassment case
A high-profile anti-abortion campaigner has been warned she could face prison after being convicted of harassing the director of a Marie Stopes clinic.
Bernadette Smyth, who heads up Precious Life, was found guilty of harassing Dawn Purvis on two occasions earlier this year.
Ms Smyth (51) from Suffolk Street in Ballymena, Co Antrim was told she will be subject to a restraining order in relation to the clinic at Great Victoria Street in Belfast city centre.
And Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes said her sentence could range from community service to a custodial term in prison.
He also ordered Ms Smyth to pay compensation for her behaviour.
Judge Holmes was scathing in how the allegations were contested.
He said: "This case was run, no-holds barred, in a vicious and malicious fashion."
And he said he did "not feel it is acceptable for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any shape, form or fashion and asked about their identification".
Judge Holmes said a police officer involved in the case had been slandered and said Ms Purvis had also been unfairly treated.
The case centred on two incidents outside the clinic earlier this year.
In the first, in January, there was an exchange between the women during which Ms Purvis lifted her hand up to protesters and told them to stop harassing her.
Ms Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated Ballymena/American drawl: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling". She had argued it was just a joke.
However, Judge Holmes yesterday said he believed it was more sinister. "To say 'You ain't seen harassment yet, darling' in whatever accent is a threat," the judge said.
The second incident happened the following month.
Ms Purvis' son was said to have called to her office with a female friend to pick up frozen food.
The former PUP leader said as she walked them from the centre a protester followed the young woman up the street. Ms Smyth was said to have cackled at Ms Purvis.
Ms Smyth claimed she had been set up, having been issued with a notice from police after a complaint from Ms Purvis. Judge Holmes rejected that, saying there had been "no set-up".
"What we have here is a lady who is implacably opposed to what is going on inside that building and the work of Dawn Purvis," he said.
"This lady is somebody driven by very strong views and very strong feelings."
He added: "I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not feel it's appropriate for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any form, shape or fashion and questioned either to their identity, why they are going in there and being forced to involve themselves in conversation at times when they are almost certainly going to be stressed and very possibly distressed."
The judge was highly critical of "utterly unjustified" claims during the case that concerns had been raised about a woman constable's handling of the investigation by senior officers.
"She was slandered during the course of this case deliberately and maliciously," said Judge Holmes.
"Likewise Dawn Purvis herself, again maliciously and totally unnecessarily." Sentencing was adjourned until next month.