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Anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth will not be subjected to any future restraining order, judge confirms

By Alan Erwin

Published 30/06/2015

Bernie Smyth at Laganside Court Monday, June 29, 2015
Bernie Smyth at Laganside Court Monday, June 29, 2015

A high-profile anti-abortion campaigner cleared of harassing a former Marie Stopes clinic director will not be subjected to any future restraining order, a judge confirmed today.

Even though Bernadette Smyth won her appeal against being convicted of a campaign against Dawn Purvis, prosecutors still wanted her banned from further approaches.

But Judge Gordon Kerr QC ruled there was no basis for imposing such a restraining condition.

It means there is nothing to stop Mrs Smyth taking part in lawful protests outside the clinic in Belfast city centre.

On Monday the 52-year-old mounted a successful challenge to being found guilty of harassing Ms Purvis on two dates in January and February last year.

Pro-life campaigners have staged demonstrations and handed out leaflets at the centre which offers sexual and reproductive healthcare and early medical abortions within Northen Ireland's laws since it opened on Great Victoria Street in October 2012.

Ms Purvis, who has now stepped down as clinic director, said she was left frightened for her safety following the two alleged incidents.

In the first exchange with demonstrators the ex-Progressive Unionist MLA told how she put her hand up and asked them to stop harassing her.

At that stage Mrs Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated Ballymena/American drawl: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

A month later the pair came into contact again when Ms Purvis' son called to her office with a female friend.

She claimed that as she walked them back out another of the protestors followed the girl up the street.

According to her account Mrs Smyth, of Suffolk Street in Ballymena, then started to cackle at her.

The former director told an appeal hearing at Belfast County Court that she felt menaced and frightened.

But half-way through the hearing counsel for Mrs Smyth successfully applied to have the case thrown out.

Judge Kerr QC ruled that the evidence did not meet the standard required for a successful prosecution.

He quashed the conviction and the accompanying sentence of 100 hours community service and £2,000 compensation to the alleged victim.

Mrs Smyth was originally also subjected to a five-year restraining order to stop her pestering or interfering with the alleged victim, and from going within 20 yards of the front door of the city centre clinic.

The mother-of-four, who continually denied any harassment, was not present in court today as the prosecution application for future restraining conditions was dismissed.

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