Bernadette Smyth: Anti-abortion protester wins appeal

Media caption,
Speaking outside court, Bernadette Smyth said she could now put the case behind her

An anti-abortion protester convicted of harassing a Marie Stopes clinic director has won her appeal.

The case against Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth was thrown out of court in Belfast on Monday.

A judge ruled there was insufficient evidence that she harassed former clinic director Dawn Purvis.

The guilty verdict has been quashed. But prosecutors are seeking to retain a restraining order to stop her approaching Ms Purvis.

Mrs Smyth, 52, denied harassing Ms Purvis on two dates in January and February last year.

Last December, she was convicted and sentenced to 100 hours community service.

Image source, PAcemaker
Image caption,
Dawn Purvis is a former director of the clinic in Belfast

A five-year restraining order, stopping her from pestering Ms Purvis, a former Northern Ireland assembly member, or anyone seeking to enter the clinic, was imposed at the time.

In court on Monday, Mrs Smyth's barrister challenged Ms Purvis' claim that two incidents involving his client has left her in fear.

He said Ms Purvis had a former role within the Progressive Unionist Party which is politically aligned to loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

He questioned her claim that she felt intimidated by his client.

"Are you not a person with a bit more fortitude than that?" he asked.

"I was frightened," she replied.

"I was fearful, and all of the protestors were causing me a lot of angst."

At the end of the prosecution case, Mrs Smyth's lawyer applied to have the case against his client thrown out.

The judge backed his submission and dismissed the charges, ruling that the evidence did not meet the standard required for a successful prosecution.

He will now consider a further prosecution request to maintain the restraining order despite the conviction being quashed.

Outside court Mrs Smyth, who was accompanied by family and supporters, said: "I just feel that justice has been done.

"I can now continue with the work I have been doing over the last 18 years, which is to advocate for unborn children."

Asked if she had any message for Ms Purvis, she said: "None. I have closed that chapter and I don't need to re-open it."

Anti-abortion campaigners protested at the door of the Marie Stopes clinic after it opened in Belfast two years ago.

It was the first private organisation to offer early medical abortions in Northern Ireland, where the legislation regarding pregnancy termination is much more strict than in the rest of the UK.

A woman can only have an abortion if it can be proven that her life is at risk, or if there is a serious danger of permanent damage to her mental or physical health.