Northern Ireland

Marie Stopes anti-abortion protest harassment claim 'ridiculous'

Bernadette Smyth
Image caption Bernadette Smyth denies harassing Dawn Purvis of the Marie Stopes clinic

An anti-abortion campaigner has dismissed allegations of harassment as "ridiculous", a court has heard.

Bernadette Smyth, of Suffolk Street, Ballymena, denies harassing Marie Stopes clinic director Dawn Purvis twice in January and February.

The Marie Stopes clinic opened in Belfast in October 2012, amid protests from anti-abortion groups.

It provides medical termination of pregnancy up to nine weeks gestation, subject to legal criteria being met.

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

'Theatrical'

In a previous court hearing, Ms Purvis said that on one occasion she asked protesters to stop heckling and harassing her, but Ms Smyth replied: "You ain't seen harassment yet, darling."

A defence lawyer told Belfast Magistrates Court on Tuesday that this was "a cheeky, silly" remark made in a theatrical way with an "American/Ballymena drawl".

When he put it to his client, in the witness box, that the comment had left Ms Purvis "terrified and in fear for her life", Ms Smyth replied: "There's no way Dawn Purvis could be frightened - Dawn knows that.

"It was said as a joke."

The defence lawyer told the court it was difficult to believe Ms Purvis regarded this as harassment, given that she was a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party which had "links to the UVF".

"Dawn Purvis is not a shy, retiring violet," he said.

Judgement in the case is expected on Friday.

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