DUP councillor charged over Facebook comment on SF
Ruth Patterson in court over online reply to fictitious report on killing of Sinn Féin figures
Democratic Unionist councillor Ruth Patterson, with her solicitor Denis Moloney, arriving at Belfast Magistrates Court today in connection with a comment she posted on Facebook. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Ruth Patterson (57), a former deputy lord mayor of Belfast, was at the city’s Magistrates’ Court this morning to plead her innocence.
Ms Patterson, whose address was given as Ravenhill Avenue, has been charged with sending a grossly offensive message by Facebook on July 30th.
Solicitor Denis Moloney said: “The matter gained notoriety because of the defendant’s humble and contrite apology.”
The solicitor told District Judge Fiona Bagnall the apology did not affect his client’s ability to contest the charges.
Ms Patterson was arrested by the PSNI over a comment made on Facebook in response to a fictitious report about a massacre of senior Sinn Féin figures during a controversial IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.
Mr Moloney described the arrest as “malicious and draconian”.
In the message, the former nurse and retired member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) is alleged to have said the attackers “would have done a great service to Northern Ireland”.
She 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.
Ms Patterson appeared in the dock wearing a bright pink jacket, black top and necklace. She smiled at supporters, who packed the public gallery of courtroom number 10.
Mr Moloney appealed for the case to be heard as soon as possible so “it does not hang over her like the sword of Damocles”.
He also said there were a number of issues he wished to raise with the investigating police officer.
Judge Bagnall adjourned the case for eight weeks saying: “I expect a decision.”
There was a round of applause at the end of the five-minute hearing. As they left the courtroom, some supporters shouted “no surrender” and verbally abused police officers.
Mrs Patterson is a firebrand DUP representative who has previously courted controversy.
In 2011 she snubbed Sinn Féin lord mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile after his appointment and refused to shake his hand.
Among the DUP party colleagues who turned out to show their support were former minister for finance Sammy Wilson, Minister for Health Edwin Poots, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Christopher Stalford and former lord mayor Gavin Robinson.
Prominent Union flag protesters Willie Frazer and Jim Dowson were among a crowd of loyalists gathered outside the Laganside court complex.
Some loyalists covered their faces and used umbrellas to prevent media from taking pictures as Ms Patterson walked out.
Originally from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, Ms Patterson moved to Belfast to train as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital during the turbulent 1970s. She later joined the UDR, claiming she felt a deep sense of duty to protect her community against the growing IRA threat.
Her political career began in 2000 when she was appointed campaign manager for colleagues Peter Robinson (now party leader and First Minister) and Nigel Dodds (deputy party leader) during the 2001 Westminster election - the year she was elected to represent the Balmoral district.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Wilson said he hoped the matter would be dealt with appropriately.
“We were determined to come down and show support for someone who has been a good party member.
“I know Ruth well, I have canvassed for her in Balmoral and the fact that she gets elected time and time again shows she has the trust of the people of her area.
“I hope that when this matter does be eventually heard that it will be dealt with in the right manner.”
Ms Patterson declined to comment. The case was adjourned until October 17th.