Belfast Telegraph

Chronically-ill Belfast grandmother jailed after not paying TV licence

A chronically-ill grandmother from Belfast has been jailed for six days after she did not pay her TV licence.

The Irish News reports Anne Smith (59), from Poleglass, who has serious mobility issues and is awaiting a double-hip replacement, was ordered to present herself to police by 5pm on Wednesday so she could begin a six-day sentence behind bars.

She was jailed after she did not pay a £1,100 court fine for failing to pay her television licence.

The mother-of-four, who has 12 grandchildren, told The Irish News yesterday that she was "terrified" at the prospect of being imprisoned.

"I think it is utterly ridiculous that they would arrest a woman over a TV licence. I wish I had just paid the fines," she said.

"I broke my hip and was unable to get out of the house for a whole year. In hindsight, I should have had a licence but because of my health, and I had to help my sister through cancer, I didn't get to do it."

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, the party's justice spokesman, said: “This is a distressing case and the arrest and imprisonment of this woman for a fairly minor offence.

“The family have made it clear there are mitigating factors given her very serious health problems and efforts were actually being made to pay the outstanding fines at the time she was arrested.

“However, it seems that because the bench warrant had already been issued, this was not accepted and she was instead arrested from her home and is now being held in Hydebank Prison.

“I believe that is a gross over-reaction. The system should have showed some flexibility in this case because jailing a chronically ill grandmother does no-one any service, particularly when she was making good on her efforts to pay the fines.

“The relevant authorities should now intervene, show some common sense and ensure she is immediately released."

People Before Profit Councillor Matt Collins said: "I have been speaking to Anne's family today, who are naturally very worried and stressed. It is disgraceful that a 59-year-old chronically ill woman has been jailed for not paying her TV licence. This is callous treatment of a vulnerable working class woman.

"No one was arrested for the £650 million RHI bill, but when an ordinary person struggles to make ends meet they are thrown in jail. One law for the rich, one law for the poor- it's sickening and draconian. PBP are calling for Anne to be released immediately."

In a statement, a TV Licensing spokesperson said: "Newspaper reports say Mrs Smith has been sentenced to prison for non-payment of court fines for TV Licence evasion.

"The sentence is a matter for the courts and TV Licensing has no involvement in this decision. We do everything we can to help people pay and only prosecute as a last resort when all other options are exhausted. The maximum penalty for watching TV illegally is a fine of up to £1,000 (plus court costs and a victim surcharge).

"The majority of first time offenders are not prosecuted if they buy a licence within a specified time. There are many ways to pay, including weekly cash payments and we are currently trialling the Simple Payment Plan which offers even more help to those who might struggle to pay.  We work with nearly 500 organisations across the UK, including many in Northern Ireland, to offer advice and support.”

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