Belfast Telegraph

Appeal date set for Bernie Smyth: Anti-abortion campaigner to fight Marie Stopes harassment conviction, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A high-profile anti-abortion campaigner's appeal against being convicted of harassing a Marie Stopes clinic director will be heard in May, it was confirmed today.

Precious Life chief Bernie Smyth was ordered to complete 100 hours community service and told to pay Dawn Purvis £2,000 compensation for the campaign against her.

A five-year restraining order was also imposed to stop the defendant pestering or interfering with the former Progressive Unionist MLA.

The wide-ranging sentence included a further ban on Mrs Smyth going within 20 yards of the front door of the city centre clinic over the next five years.

But the 52-year-old is now pressing ahead with a bid to clear her name.

At Belfast County Court today a judge listed her appeal against both conviction and sentence for hearing on May 11.

The mother-of-four has continually denied having harassing Ms Purvis on two dates earlier this year.

Pro-life campaigners have staged protests 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.

During a contested hearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court last year Ms Purvis said she was left frightened for her safety following the two alleged incidents.

In one exchange with protestors on January 9 the clinic director said 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."

She originally denied to police having used the word harassment, but on viewing CCTV footage of the incident accepted it had been said in a joke.

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

She told the court the pair were picking up frozen food which needed to be put in the freezer.

Ms Purvis claimed that as she walked them out of the centre one of the protestors followed the girl up the street.

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

But the defendant claimed she was set up having just been served with a police notice warning of potential action for harassment.

She alleged instead that Ms Purvis "growled" at her through the clinic front door in a bid to provoke a reaction.

The Precious Life founder rejected prosecution contentions that she "cackled like a witch", insisting instead that her laughter was fuelled by nerves and anxiety.

Convicting her  in November last year, Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes held that anti-abortion campaigners stationed outside the clinic had been forcing any women of child-bearing age to identify there reasons for entering.

He described Mrs Smyth as someone who has worked tirelessly to shut down the Marie Stopes Clinic.

In a scathing attack on how the allegations were fought, he said the case had been run on a "no-holds barred, vicious and malicious fashion".

During sentencing Judge Holmes rejected defence contentions that a restraining order was unnecessary.

Imposing the no-go zone along with a fine and community service, he accepted Mrs Smyth and Ms Purvis may come face to face in a television studio or elsewhere.

He made clear, however, that the defendant must not be within 20 yards of the Marie Stopes premises.

"I'm also restraining you, in conjunction with that, from pestering, interfering with or molesting any persons seeking to leave these premises during the period of five years," he told her last month.

"Although the prosecution in this case may have acted on two specific incidents, I have held there was a large number of incidents.

"You were harassing Dawn Purvis by harassing the people coming into the premises."

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