Belfast Telegraph

Pro-lifer Bernadette Smyth breaches court order in just 48 hours

By Deborah McAleese

Pro-life campaigner Bernie Smyth was cautioned by police yesterday for breaching a court order after protesting outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast - two days after being banned from going within 20 yards of the building.

Earlier, while holding an anti-abortion placard, Mrs Smyth insisted she was not in breach of the order, imposed on Wednesday following her conviction for the harassment of the clinic's director, Dawn Purvis.

"I have every right to be here. I have launched an appeal against my conviction and therefore the sentence handed down by the court has no effect in the meantime," the 52-year-old mother-of-four claimed.

However, police later told her to move away from the area and cautioned her for being in breach of the order.

Her victim, Ms Purvis, said that her presence outside the clinic was not only "upsetting" for her, but also "for the women using the services".

Mrs Smyth, of the anti-abortion charity Precious Life, was this week sentenced to 100 hours community service for harassing Ms Purvis, a former Progressive Unionist MLA.

She was also ordered to pay £2,000 compensation to her victim.

A five-year restraining order preventing her pestering Ms Purvis or anyone seeking to enter the clinic was also imposed.

Under the terms of the restraining order, Mrs Smyth was also banned from going within 20 yards of the clinic, on Belfast's Great Victoria Street.

Deputy District Chris Judge Holmes warned Mrs Smyth: "The behaviour of stopping people, questioning them about why they were going into the premises, was a direct harassment of Dawn Purvis." Mrs Smyth has launched an appeal against her conviction and insisted yesterday: "I am going to fight this conviction until I get it overturned."

Mrs Smyth joined two other pro-life campaigners outside Marie Stopes yesterday afternoon. A number of passers-by stopped to wish her well.

At around 2.30pm police arrived at the scene and asked Mrs Smyth to leave the area.

She was then cautioned by officers for breaching the restraining order.

Inspector Rosemary Thompson said: "A woman was cautioned in the Great Victoria Street area of south Belfast in relation to breaching a court order prohibiting harassment and left the scene."

Anti-abortion campaigners have protested at the door of the Marie Stopes clinic since it opened in Belfast two years ago.

It is the first private organisation to offer early medical abortions in Northern Ireland, where the legislation regarding pregnancy termination is much more strict than in the rest of the UK.

Precious Life, the charity set up by Mrs Smyth, plans a carol service around an empty manger outside the clinic this evening.

Upon Mrs Smyth's conviction last month the judge said that anti-abortion campaigners stationed outside the clinic had been forcing any women of child-bearing age to identify their reasons for entering it.

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

And in a scathing attack on how the allegations against her were fought in court, he said that the case had been run on a "no-holds barred, vicious and malicious fashion".

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