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Woman in Jim Wells homophobia storm warned of jail term

Defendant admits wasting police time

By Noel McAdam

Published 26/07/2016

Dorothy Elaine Dawn Gardner at Downpatrick courthouse yesterday
Dorothy Elaine Dawn Gardner at Downpatrick courthouse yesterday
Jim Wells at Downpatrick courthouse yesterday

A Tyrone woman has been told she could face jail after admitting wasting police time in the row which led to Jim Wells' resignation as Health Minister.

Dorothy Elaine Dawn Gardner (49) from Dungannon pleaded guilty for the first time to charges of "knowingly making a false report or statement" over the DUP MLA's allegedly homophobic remarks at a pre-election hustings meeting last year.

The veteran South Down politician immediately welcomed the defendant's admission as the first step towards his vindication and restoration of his public reputation.

"My political career was destroyed by a series of totally false reports of what I said at that hustings meeting," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "As a result I was forced to resign as Health Minister and suffered months of online abuse."

Deputy District Judge Neil Rafferty told Ms Gardiner, of Killycanavan Road: "You have now pleaded guilty to charges which amount to a serious offence."

And he made clear he is "considering a custodial sentence".

However, the judge then adjourned the case until August 25 for pre-sentencing reports, saying he wanted to have "as much information as possible".

He also said he wanted the amount of police time which was said to have been wasted in the case to be quantified.

Frail-looking and sitting in the dock in a parka jacket, with the hood partly raised, Ms Gardiner, who is known as 'Dee', spoke only to confirm she understood what was happening.

Mr Rafferty told her if the probation service had not been in touch with her in the next fortnight, she should contact her solicitor.

The hearing at Downpatrick was the sixth in relation to the case and was listed at the start of proceedings as a 'contest'.

But in the end, Ms Gardner admitted the charge of causing "wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making a false report or statement tending to show that an offence had been committed by Mr James Wells MLA".

Her case was not connected, however, to a separate police inquiry into the taping of remarks by Mr Wells at the public event in Downpatrick during the run-up to last year's General Election.

Mr Wells has long claimed that a recording of allegedly anti-gay comments was "doctored" and gave a misleading impression.

However, a few days later after the meeting, he was involved in an altercation with a lesbian couple while canvassing in Rathfriland. The PSNI investigated both incidents and concluded there was no basis for a prosecution of Mr Wells.

At the hustings debate, he had said: "All evidence throughout the world says the best way to raise children is in a loving, stable, married relationship; the facts show that, the facts show that certainly you don't bring a child up in a homosexual relationship."

Immediately afterwards, against a backdrop of uproar from the audience, he then added: "I say again, I say again, a child is far more likely to be abused or neglected in a non stable marriage situation, gay or straight."

Mr Wells argued that in the full context his remarks overall made clear he was talking about unstable relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

After a full transcript emerged, he said last year: "Essentially I resigned over remarks which it now turns out I did not say. I feel a huge sense of injustice.

"My whole career in politics over 33 years came crashing down in 17 seconds ... I felt I was beginning to come to terms with the job, which I enjoyed. But it all came tumbling down."

Yesterday he added: "I am relieved by today's guilty plea as it represents a first but major step towards my total vindication. I now hope that Ms Gardner and the other individuals who sought to destroy my reputation will now publicly apologise for the huge damage they have caused me over the last 14 months."

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