Belfast Telegraph

Councillor posting probe 'widened'

A police inquiry into a Belfast councillor's alleged offensive posting on Facebook has widened to Britain, a court has heard.

Detectives are trying to trace the original source of the exchange involving the city's former Democratic Unionist deputy lord mayor Ruth Patterson, 57.

Her computer and telephone are being examined as part of a third party investigation in England, Belfast Magistrates' Court heard.

Officers are investigating how she received a post which envisaged the fictional deaths of senior Sinn Fein members during an attack on this summer's controversial Co Tyrone commemoration of two IRA men killed by their own bomb. Her response led to her arrest by police.

Replying to the original post on the social networking site she wrote: "We would have done a great service to Northern Ireland and the world." She later apologised.

A judge told her she would be allowed to attend legal loyalist parades and protests in Northern Ireland despite police objections. That prompted a round of applause from her supporters.

During the hearing a constable said: "Her iPhone and iPad are required as part of a third party investigation going on in England."

But Patterson's lawyer said she needed them to fulfil her public duties as a councillor. After a short break, the council said it would issue her with new equipment to replace that seized by police.

A meeting between police and prosecutors is scheduled for Tuesday to decide how to proceed.

The policewoman added: "Hopefully following that meeting we will have some action but at this time they are still required, they are still being trawled (to determine) how did Ms Patterson receive the original issue to her."

She maintained that Patterson should be prohibited from attending legal loyalist protests and parades as a condition of her bail.

"The reason would be the high profile nature of this lady in public life in Northern Ireland."

She added if there are individual events she wanted to attend that could be considered by police on a case-by-case basis.

Patterson's lawyer Denis Moloney said: "This matter had nothing whatsoever to do with parades."

His client has been charged with sending a grossly offensive communication ahead of the planned republican parade in Castlederg.

District judge Fiona Bagnall said: "The objection has to be related to the offence, not that any misbehaviour can be related to parades.

"I find it hard to see specifically what the risk is, I presume the risk of further offending is what concerned police."

She told the policewoman: "There cannot be an objection if there have not been any difficulties with her attendance at parades. I would need to have further information about what you think this lady is likely to do at parades."

The former nurse and retired Ulster Defence Regiment member was arrested and charged in August.

it was confirmed during a previous hearing that Patterson would be pleading not guilty.

Mr Moloney said then that even though Patterson had issued a humble and contrite apology it did not affect his client's ability to contest the charges.

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