Belfast Telegraph

Pro-lifer Bernie Smyth weeps as she claims a 'set-up' in harassment case

By Chris Kilpatrick

A prominent pro-life campaigner wept in court as she alleged she had been set up by 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.

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

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.

At a previous hearing at Laganside Magistrates Court, Ms Purvis claimed she was left "very frightened" for her personal safety as a result of the alleged harassment.

At the same court yesterday Ms Smyth told the judge: "I was set up."

She added: "What harm would I do to Dawn Purvis or any other person?

"I'm a pro-life person. I genuinely care for Dawn Purvis, she's human as well."

Ms Smyth said she was a grandmother who had been involved in campaigning for 17 years and had known Ms Purvis for several years.

Ms Smyth's lawyer, Conor O'Kane, repeated his client's allegations.

Mr O'Kane suggested Ms Purvis had deliberately gone down to the front door of her workplace to provoke a reaction, as she knew she needed two incidents to form a harassment case.

Ms Purvis had been opening the door for her son and a female friend.

"Dawn Purvis has set this up," he said.

"Get my son round. Get him to bring a female friend of child-bearing age round – that is the bait."

Ms Smyth became emotional while viewing CCTV footage.

"Watching this and listening to this is very difficult for me today because I'm the person accused of doing something," she said.

She said the accusations had caused "chaos" in her life.

Mr O'Kane said he found it hard to contemplate how Ms Purvis could be afraid of Ms Smyth and requested the charge against his client be dismissed, but this was rejected by District Judge Chris Holmes QC.

CCTV footage was shown of Ms Purvis leaving Marie Stopes on January 9 during what was the first alleged incident.

She stopped after somebody said "may God forgive you" to her, the court was told. Ms Purvis was then said to have said "stop harassing me" to the women.

Ms Smyth said: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

The court heard how she originally denied to police that she had used the word "harassment".

But after viewing CCTV footage of the incident she accepted it had been said in a "jokey drawl".

Claiming to have had no memory of it at the time, Ms Smyth told the judge: "I admit I said it, but it was really like 'Dawn, would you get a life, you haven't been harassed."

Ms Smyth said she was "humiliated" when police tried to subsequently issue her with a notice outlining the complaint of harassment.

An officer admitted placing it in the hood of her coat as Ms Smyth walked away from her on Great Victoria Street on February 13.

Around 25 minutes later, Ms Purvis opened the door of Marie Stopes for her son and a female friend.

Ms Purvis said she told the Precious Life campaigners to leave them alone. She said Ms Smyth "cackled" loudly at her.

Ms Smyth countered that, saying she was laughing after Ms Purvis "growled at her".

The case was adjourned until Friday.

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