Bernadette Smyth: conviction and restraining order quashed

Anti abortion campaigner Bernadette Smyth was cleared on appeal yesterday. She had initially been convicted of harassing Dawn Purvis at the end of last year.

At the original trail the judge Chris Holmes made a number of interesting comments. He stated:

“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.”

He imposed a community service order on Ms. Smyth, made her pay compensation and banned her from going within 20 yards of the clinic for 5 years.

Possibly most strangely he criticised Ms. Smyth’s defence team stating: “This case was run, no-holds barred, in a vicious and malicious fashion.” He also accused the defence of slandering both a woman police officer and Ms. Purvis.

The appeal could scarcely have been more different.

On this occasion (from the Belfast Telegraph) Ms. Smyth’s barrister Mark Mulholland QC cited the alleged victim’s former role within the Progressive Unionist Party, noting its political alignment to the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Questioning her claims to have been intimidated by his client, he put it to her: “Are you not a person with a bit more fortitude than that?”

At the end of the prosecution’s evidence before the defence began Mr. Mulholand QC applied for the case to be thrown out and the judge agreed ruling that the evidence did not meet the standard required for a successful prosecution.

Today the restraining order against Ms. Smyth was also lifted meaning that she is free to conduct peaceful protest against the Marie Stopes clinic. Ms Purvis has also moved on and was linked in May with the Victims’ Commissioner post.

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  • Sp12

    The conviction was absurd, Ms Smith got played by a more experienced operator and was then convicted to take the wind out of her sails, as opposed to actually punish the woman for any wrong doing.

  • Mister_Joe

    Nothing the Judge said supports your opinion. I hope nobody takes the narrow judgement to mean that it’s open season on workers or visitors.

  • Sp12

    Which part
    That the conviction was absurd, that Bernie got played by Dawn, or that the whole point was to take the wind out of Bernie’s sails?

    It’s a bit of a leap for anyone (you included) to assume that the overturning of a conviction that didn’t meet a minimum requirement for a prosecution signals open season on anyone.

  • chrisjones2

    ….but they will

  • barnshee

    With luck “Bernie” and her cohorts will over step the mark again and get banged up .

  • David Arnold

    So because Dawn was in the PUP, that gives Smyth and her real-life trolls carte blanche to be abusive, intimidating and offensive? The Stopes clinic is operating entirely legally and if these people have a problem with it, they should stay away.

    I’m pretty sure if I organised a daily mob outside McDonalds waving graphic pictures and intimidating diners while screaming ‘meat is murder’ I’d be moved on pretty sharpish.

  • Turgon

    Ms. Smyth has been found entirely innocent by a court. There was not enough prosecution evidence to secure a conviction even before the defence started. That is a pretty damning indictment of the previous trial which has now been wholly set aside.

    It is very important to understand that she has committed no crime. Suggesting anything else would be both unacceptable and potentially dangerous.

  • Turgon

    Except Ms. Smyth has not overstepped any mark. Her actions have been found to be legal. Comment by all means but it is important to avoid any suggestion otherwise.

  • David Arnold

    I didn’t say she had necessarily committed a crime. I commented on the use of tactics which I’ve witnessed first hand and which most people would find intimidating and offensive.

  • barnshee

    Hmm

    ““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.”

  • Turgon

    Barnshee maybe my explanation was inadequate. That quote is from the judge in the original trial. That judgement has been set aside as there was not enough evidence against Ms. Smyth, even to proceed with the trial, after the prosecution evidence was finished. The restraining order was also quashed.

  • Turgon

    No she has not necessarily committed a crime: rather she has not committed a crime full stop.

    By all means comment on the other stuff: I am all for free debate but it is vital that no one say anything against Ms. Smyth’s innocence.

  • David Arnold

    Indeed Turgon. Likewise neither the Stopes clinic nor its attendees have committed a crime, yet they are subjected to extreme harassment, the likes of which I find it hard to believe would be tolerated in any other part of the UK.

    How do you personally feel a similar daily protest at McDonalds (as I outlined above) would or should be dealt with? Would you deem it acceptable to be screamed at, jostled and insulted because a group of protestors disagreed with your choices?

  • barnshee

    I agree

    I also agree with

    “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.”

  • Granni Trixie

    I too witnessed such tactics every time I was on the bus going down Great Victoria Street. One day I got off the bus to engage with the “protestors”. I asked a man did he think it Christian behaviour to harass women going into the clinic and he started to lecture me on abortion. I stopped him by saying that according to my personal morality abortion is ‘wrong’ too – for me. I honestly tried to engage with the protestor on a different footing to get him to recognise the
    wrong in harassing women seeking information and most particularly with reference to those seeking abortion who had to travel to England. There has to be a better way I said.

    He however kept to a well worn script of ‘Marie stopes is just in the business of making money’ and moralising about abortion by holding up graphic images something I didn’t appreciate as I do not need these people to tell me how precious life is.

    The exchange helped me see how hopeless it is to try to work with the organisers of the protest – it’s their way or no way.

  • David Arnold

    There is no reasoning with fanatics. They have an inflexible world view and a bunch of soundbites. Like all bullies, the only thing they respect is a force greater than them, in this case a law which deems their behaviour unacceptable and is actually enforced.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree.

    But being not guilty of a crime does not make behavior acceptable in a civilized society. That is of course a matter of opinion and we can all have our opinions on what happened in these incidents. I know what mine are and my sympathies lie firmly with women in very difficult situations who were hounded (albeit legally it appears) by the pro-life fanatics

  • sk

    David Arnold is spot on.

    Likewise, how would you feel about this style of protest outside of an Israeli owned shop?

    How about if a Gay Rights group stood outside of Ashers and berated people in the way that this Bernie Smyth weirdo does?

    I imagine there might be significantly less sympathy from Turgon if either scenario were to transpire.

  • Cosmo

    dumb stupid question – but does this result, shed a light on the Appeal judge(s) views on abortion?

  • Sp12

    The protests are crass, and I don’t agree with them.
    But it doesn’t change the fundamental issue that if the woman didn’t commit a crime she should not be slapped with criminal conviction just because I don’t agree with her.
    Basic justice is not something that should only be extended to those we agree with.

  • Mister_Joe

    There is a problem all over the world with some people not accepting the fact that being found not guilty means that the accused is entirely innocent. They (some people) say “Yes BUT… That is completely wrong. Not guilty means innocent.

  • Mister_Joe

    It tells us nothing about the Judge’s view on abortion and shame on anyone who would suggest otherwise.

  • Croiteir

    I trust you are not suggesting that the original judges verdict revealed anything concerning the first trial judge – would that be sailing close to contempt?

  • Croiteir

    Can’t be much wrong with it or the courts would deal with it

  • Croiteir

    I would reckon they would be allowed to get on with it – just as Bernie has been

  • Croiteir

    telling lies you mean?

  • Cosmo

    Indeed, a dumb stupid question. (And I appreciate an experienced long-career QC like Kerr, has a good deal of experience with dropping his cases owing to insufficient evidence.)
    Of course for civilised citizens, what a pity that in NI what the law constitutes reasonable protest, and not evidence of harassment threatening behaviour towards other citizens going about their legal business, seems askew.

  • Croiteir

    Seems okay to me

  • Cosmo

    Bully for you.

  • Croiteir

    Indeed – but there was no bully

  • Cosmo

    Advice please….How do you get copies of Court Transcripts/Judgement Transcripts in cases like these? I would like to read them, and keep coming up against a blank wall on the NI Courtsni website… Are they in the public domain?
    I am just puzzling as to how one Judge (Chris Holmes) can say a case is made; and another (Judge Kerr, I believe) can come along to say there ‘inadequate evidence’ to even prosecute…. So, would like to understand the (legally-based) reasons given by the Appeal Judge, and indeed the Original Deputy District Judge.
    Also, can this go to Appeal, yet again?
    What a waste of (public?) money if the first trial was based on error. Is there censure for the first one?
    This Appeal Decision is giving great comfort and motivation to organisations with Orwellian names, like Precious Life, Torch of the Faith, CrossRythmns, Christian legal Centre, Christian Concern…. and fundamentalist mysogyny on the streets of Belfast.

  • David Arnold

    That would make a great slogan for behaviour in NI generally.

  • Croiteir

    Certainly if you are a loyalist