DUP's Patterson fights charge despite apology
A former DUP Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast has appeared in court charged in connection with a comment she posted on Facebook.
Ruth Patterson appeared at the city's Magistrates Court on Thursday after being charged with sending a grossly offensive message by the social networking site on July 30.
The 57-year-old South Belfast councillor, whose address was given as Ravenhill Avenue, will contest the charge.
A number of senior DUP politicians including former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, Health Minister Edwin Poots and former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson attended court as a show of support.
Prominent Union flag protesters Willie Frazer and Jim Dowson were also among around two-dozen supporters who gathered outside the court.
During the hearing, which lasted around five minutes, Mrs Patterson's solicitor Denis Moloney confirmed she would be contesting the charges.
"The matter gained notoriety because of the defendant's humble and contrite apology," he said.
Mr Moloney told District Judge Fiona Bagnall the apology did not affect his client's ability to contest the charges. He had requested the case be brought before the court within four weeks, but it was adjourned for eight weeks.
Mrs Patterson was arrested by the PSNI over comments made on Facebook in response to a fictitious report about a massacre of senior Sinn Fein figures during a controversial IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone. Mr Moloney described the arrest to be "malicious and Draconian".
In the message the former nurse said the attackers "would have done a great service to Northern Ireland".
Mrs Patterson later withdrew the comments and apologised.
The DUP described the remarks as unacceptable.
In court, a PSNI detective said he believed he could connect the defendant to the charges. Mrs Patterson did not comment following her court appearance.
Speaking outside the court, the DUP's Sammy Wilson said: "The fact that she gets elected time after time is an indication that she has got the trust of the people in her area," he said.
"I hope that this matter will eventually be heard in court and the right decision be made."
She will return to court on October 17.