Belfast Telegraph

Don't call me a witch, pro-life campaigner Bernie Smyth tells court

By Chris Kilpatrick

A pro-life campaigner has rejected claims she cackled like a witch at the director of a Marie Stopes clinic.

Precious Life's Bernie Smyth, from Suffolk Road in Ballymena, denies a charge of harassing former PUP leader Dawn Purvis outside her Belfast city centre workplace on two occasions between January and February of this year.

Ms Smyth (51) is among those who distribute pro-life leaflets and "reach out" to women of child-bearing age accessing the multi-office building where Marie Stopes is based.

She insisted she had not stood outside the centre to intimidate or harass Ms Purvis, but to "save lives".

Prosecutor Nicola McCartan put it to Ms Smyth she had acted in a deliberately menacing way while demonstrating outside the clinic, laughing in a "witch's manner".

"You were there for the sole purpose in order that she would be intimidated and harassed," said Ms McCartan.

Ms Smyth rejected her description of the incident.

"I can't agree with this court referring to me as a witch. I'm a Christian," she replied.

She added: "I laughed out of nervousness."

Ms Smyth told the court she did not believe her actions had been criminal, although she did acknowledge her laughter may not have sounded normal. "It was a silly, stupid laugh," she said. "If I had not laughed I would have cried."

Ms Smyth consistently rejected harassing Ms Purvis. She vowed she would never be before another court on a similar charge.

Yesterday's hearing at Laganside Magistrates Court heard claims Ms Purvis was left frightened and intimidated by Ms Smyth's behaviour to the extent she would not sit in the same room with her, even if accompanied by police.

District Judge Chris Holmes QC rejected a request by Ms Smyth's defence to throw out the case against his client.

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

The case continues.

Background

During an exchange with protesters Dawn Purvis said she asked them to stop harassing her. At that stage Bernie Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated drawl: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling." The second alleged incident occurred after Ms Purvis' son called with a female friend. Ms Purvis claimed that as she walked them out protesters followed the girl. According to her Mrs Smyth then started to cackle menacingly.

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