‘Vicious’ Catholic activist faces jail
Bernadette Smyth, winner of a 2013 ‘Catholic of the Year’ award, could be jailed after she was convicted today of viciously harassing a Marie Stopes clinic director at her Belfast city centre offices.
The zealot, who leads the anti-abortion group Precious Life, was found guilty of of conducting a “no-holds barred” campaign against Dawn Purvis, of the Marie Stopes clinic in “a vicious and malicious fashion”.
Outside court, Smyth’s solicitor described the verdict as:
A disappointment for Christians worldwide.
He also confirmed plans to mount an appeal against the conviction.
Smyth was warned by Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes that she could face a jail sentence for harassing Purvis. He added that Smyth had also deliberately slandered the investigating officer in the case.
Smyth was also told she will be ordered to pay compensation and would be restrained from the area around the clinic.
The 51-year-old had denied harassing Purvis, a former Progressive Unionist Party assembly member, on two dates earlier this year.
The Marie Stopes clinic is the first private clinic to offer early medical abortions to women in Northern Ireland under its strict legal controls. Anti-abortion campaigners have gathered at the centre since it opened in October 2012.
Purvis, above, said she had been frightened for her safety following two incidents. On January 9, she said that when she asked protesters to stop harassing her, Mrs Smyth replied in an exaggerated Ballymena/American drawl:
You ain’t seen harassment yet, darling.
In an incident a month later, Purvis said that after leaving her son and a female friend at the front door of the clinic on Great Victoria Street, one of the protesters followed the girl up the street.
She said that when she shouted “leave them alone”, Smyth began to cackle and laugh in an exaggerated way. Smyth rejected prosecution claims that she had “cackled like a witch”, saying that her laughter was fuelled by nerves and anxiety.
With sentencing put back until next month, Smyth was told her potential punishment could be community service or prison.
The judge said anti-abortion campaigners stationed outside the clinic had been forcing any women of child-bearing age to identify their reasons for entering.
He described Smyth as someone who has worked tirelessly to shut down the Marie Stopes Clinic.
What we have here is a lady who is implacably opposed to what is going on inside that building and the work of Dawn Purvis.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not feel it’s appropriate for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any form, shape or fashion and questioned either to their identity, why they are going in there and being forced to involve themselves in conversation at times when they are almost certainly going to be stressed and very possibly distressed.
Turning to how the defence case was run, he said:
Throughout this case there’s been a concerted attack on anyone seen as getting in the way of Mrs Smyth.
And he pointed to a “completely and utterly unjustified” suggestion that senior police officers had expressed serious concerns about the professionalism of an investigating constable.
She was slandering during the course of this case deliberately and maliciously.
In a statement, Purvis said she felt “relieved and heartened” following the verdict.
I fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest, but it is totally unacceptable to intimidate women accessing a legal health service or the staff that provide their care. I have both witnessed and been subjected to a culture of daily harassment, and seen these protesters’ tactics become increasingly aggressive.
Last year a Catholic publication – Our Sunday Visitor Magazine (OSV) – included Smyth in their list of “Catholics of the Year 2013” for her “outstanding leadership in the church”.
She has also been awarded the 2013 Honours Award by the Knights of St. Columbanus, for her “significant contribution to society.”
Precious Life defiantly declared on their Facebook page today:
No matter what the outcome of today’s case, Bernadette will continue to defend the unborn!!