Date set for NI anti-abortion campaigner’s harrassment conviction appeal

Bernadette Smyth has been ordered to stop pestering Marie Stopes clinic director

A high-profile anti-abortion campaigner's appeal against being convicted of harassing a Marie Stopes clinic director will be heard in May.

Bernadette Smyth of the Precious Life campaign group was ordered to complete 100 hours community service and told to pay former Progressive Unionist MLA Dawn Purvis £2,000 compensation for the campaign against her.

A five-year restraining order was also imposed to stop the defendant pestering or interfering with Ms Purvis.

The sentence included a further ban on Smyth going within 20 metres of the front door of the city centre clinic over the next five years.


At Belfast County Court on Friday, a judge listed Smyth’s appeal against both conviction and sentence for hearing on May 11th.

The 52-year-old mother of four has denied harassing Ms Purvis on two dates earlier this year.

Anti-abortion campaigners have staged protests and handed out leaflets at the centre which offers sexual and reproductive healthcare and early medical abortions within Northen Ireland’s laws since it opened on Great Victoria Street in October 2012.

During a hearing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court last year, Ms Purvis said she was left frightened for her safety following the two alleged incidents.

In one exchange with protesters on January 9th, Ms Purvis said she asked them to stop harassing her.

At that stage Smyth was said to have replied in an exaggerated drawl: “You ain’t seen harassment yet, darling.”

She originally denied to police having used the word harassment, but on viewing CCTV footage of the incident accepted it had been said in a joke.

The second alleged incident occurred on February 13th after Ms Purvis’s son called to her office with a female friend. She told the court the pair were picking up frozen food which needed to be put in the freezer.

Ms Purvis claimed that as she walked them out of the centre one of the protesters followed the girl up the street.

According to her account Smyth, of Suffolk Street in Ballymena, then started to cackle menacingly. But the defendant claimed she was set up, having just been served with a police notice warning of potential action for harassment.

She alleged instead that Ms Purvis “growled” at her through the clinic front door in a bid to provoke a reaction.

The Precious Life founder rejected prosecution contentions that she “cackled like a witch”, insisting instead that her laughter was fuelled by nerves and anxiety.

Convicting her in November last year, Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes held that 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. He said her defence in the trial had been run on a "no-holds barred, vicious and malicious fashion".

During sentencing, Judge Holmes rejected defence contentions that a restraining order was unnecessary. Imposing the no-go zone along with a fine and community service, he accepted Smyth and Ms Purvis may come face to face in a television studio or elsewhere.

He made clear, however, that the defendant must not be within 20 metres of the Marie Stopes premises.