Belfast Telegraph

Pro-lifer Bernie Smyth rejects claims she 'cackled like a witch' at Marie Stopes director

By Alan Erwin

Anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth who is facing an harassment charge today rejected court claims she cackled like a witch at a Marie Stopes clinic director.

Precious Life chief Bernie Smyth insisted her laughter at coming face to face with Dawn Purvis was fuelled only by nerves and anxiety.

She told Belfast Magistrates' Court: "If I hadn't laughed I would have cried because it was such a pantomime at that particular stage."

Mrs Smyth (51) denies harassing Ms Purvis, the former Progressive Unionist MLA, at her city centre clinic 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.

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.

Belfast Magistrates' Court has heard claims that Ms Purvis was left frightened for her safety following the two alleged incidents.

During an 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 claims she was set up having just been served with a police notice warning of potential action for harassment.

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

As the defendant faced cross-examination on day three of the contest, she insisted: "I laughed, that's the be all and end all of it."

The prosecutor put it to her, however, that she had been "moving around in front of the window, cackling in a witchy manner".

Mrs Smyth emphatically 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.

"I didn't premeditate that laugh, I laughed out of nervousness."

Denying prosecution claims that her sole reason for being outside the clinic was to intimidate Ms Purvis by her presence, Mrs Smyth insisted her purpose for involvement in the anti-abortion movement was to save lives.

She added: "I will never, ever be back in the court under these charges again because I have never broke the law or intended to harass another human being, and that includes Dawn Purvis."

Having heard all evidence in the case Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes adjourned the contest for closing submissions to be made at a later date.

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