Northern Ireland

Ruth Patterson in court over Facebook comment

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Media captionSupporters used umbrellas to prevent the media from taking pictures as Ms Patterson arrived and left court

A Belfast councillor has appeared in court charged with sending an electronic message that was grossly offensive.

It related to a Facebook comment Ruth Patterson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, made about an imaginary attack on a republican parade in Castlederg.

Ms Patterson, 57, appeared at Belfast Magistrates' Court. Her lawyer said she would be contesting the charge.

Her supporters at the hearing included DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson was also in the courtroom and junior minister Jonathan Bell accompanied Ms Patterson into the hearing.

Ms Patterson is a former deputy lord mayor of Belfast.

In court, a PSNI detective said he believed he could connect the defendant to the charges.

Her solicitor told the court: "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.

He described Ms Patterson's arrest as "malicious and draconian" and appealed for the case to be heard as soon as possible so "it does not hang over her like the sword of Damocles".

The solicitor also said there were a number of issues he wished to raise with the investigating police officer.

There was applause from the public gallery at the end of the five minute hearing and the district judge called for quiet before ordering the court to be cleared.

Some supporters covered their faces and used umbrellas to prevent the media from taking pictures as Ms Patterson entered and left the court building.

The case is due to be heard again on 17 October.