Senior party figures in court, jostling supporters outside... and Ruth smiles through it all
Published 24/08/2013 | 08:30
Her smile never faltered. From the moment she arrived at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday morning Ruth Patterson showed no sign of nerves.
Wearing a fitted bright pink jacket, black top and Union flag heart-shaped brooch pinned to her lapel, the former DUP Belfast Deputy Lord Mayor looked ready for her moment in the dock.
Flanked by senior DUP colleagues and supporters, a confident Mrs Patterson walked into the court building.
Since her arrest over the posting of offensive Facebook comments hit the headlines, the South Belfast politician, known for her direct and at times feisty political sparring, had remained silent.
Her first appearance in court sparked huge media interest.
But while Patterson, a former member of the UDR appeared unrattled by her impending court appearance, others among her supporters were not so happy.
Trying to get the first images of her walking into court, minor skirmishes broke out when photographers were jostled by supporters – some with their faces masked – who tried to block the shots with umbrellas.
Inside, both the media benches and public gallery were full.
At a quick glance, we could have been sitting in Stormont or in the chamber at Belfast City Council – not courtroom 10 at Belfast Magistrates Court.
Among the faces looking on from the public gallery were former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, Health Minister Edwin Poots, junior minister Jonathan Bell, former Belfast Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson and current Deputy Lord Mayor Christopher Stalford.
Also present were prominent flag protesters Willie Frazer and Jim Dowson.
Out of a list of 66 listed cases to be heard, they were all there for case number 56 – Ruth Patterson.
The politicians sat alongside those awaiting their turn in the dock, or their families.
The words "all rise" echoed around the courtroom just after 10.30am marking the beginning of the legal session.
It was business as usual with case after case being heard in the busy court – an assault, a driving offence, drug offences, breach of bail conditions.
But anticipation was building for the councillor's appearance.
Finally, just before midday, her solicitor Denis Moloney raised case 56 with the judge.
After a short delay, the accused DUP councillor finally walked into the courtroom and made her way to the dock.
Nodding at the security guard, the smile was still there.
Mr Moloney said even though Mrs Patterson had said sorry over the issue at hand, it did not affect his client's ability to contest the charges.
"The matter gained notoriety because of the humble and contrite apology," he said. A PSNI detective said he believed he could connect the defendant to the charges.
Mr Moloney said there were a number of issues he had been asked to raise about the nature of Mrs Patterson's arrest, but did not want to question the detective in the witness box because he was not the investigating officer.
He pressed that he wanted the case dealt with quickly.
Judge Fiona Bagnall said: "I would prefer to take it for eight weeks and have a decision, rather than bring it back after six and not have a decision."
She adjourned the case until October 17.
As her time in the dock came to an end a round of applause erupted from the public gallery.
Outside, when asked why he was there, Mr Dowson said: "I have absolutely no time for the DUP, they led us up the hill and down again so many times.
"But this has brought people together because this is a witch-hunt against the Protestant and unionist community," he said. Mr Wilson said the DUP was determined to show support for its councillor.
"I've known Ruth since she entered Belfast City Council, canvassed for her in Balmoral; she has been a very good representative in Balmoral."
Walking outside, she was once again escorted by DUP politicians. Stopping amid a minor media frenzy for photographs, her first appearance in court was over, and she let her smile, supporters and solicitor do the talking for her.