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Anti-abortion campaigner harassed Purvis, court told

FORMER PUP leader Dawn Purvis has told a court she was "frightened and fearful" for her safety after being harassed by the founder of an anti-abortion group.

Ms Purvis, who now works as programme director of Marie Stopes Northern Ireland, claimed that on two occasions earlier this year she was harassed by Bernadette Smith of Precious Life.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard that since Marie Stopes opened a clinic in Belfast in October 2012, members of the Precious Life group have protested outside the office on Great Victoria Street.

As well as offering advice and treatment on sexual and reproductive health, Marie Stopes also provides legal abortions in Northern Ireland.

Ms Smyth (51), from Suffolk Street in Ballymena, has denied harassing Ms Purvis on dates between January 8 and February 14.

Her barrister Conor O'Kane told the court that Marie Stopes and Precious Life worked to different agendas and claimed the charges were a "set up" - and Ms Purvis was "out to get the head honcho" of the anti-abortion group.

Mr O'Kane also asked if, given her position as one-time head of the PUP, which had links to people who "murder and slaughter", it really the case that Ms Purvis felt "menaced and intimidated" by Ms Smith.

Giving evidence yesterday, Ms Purvis claimed she had to encounter the protesters every time she went to work.

Setting out the first incident on January 9, CCTV footage of which was played to the court, she said she was leaving work when she heard a female voice saying "May God forgive you".

She said she approached a group of three protesters outside the clinic and asked them to repeat what was said.

When the comment was repeated, Ms Purvis said she replied "May God forgive me?" before one of the three produced a plastic foetus and said to her "don't you run an abortion clinic" and "don't you cut the heads off babies".

Ms Purvis said she then walked away from the protesters, put her hand up and asked them to stop harassing her.

At this point, she said, Ms Smith "said in a very exaggerated drawl 'You ain't seen harassment yet, darlin'."

Asked by Crown prosecutor Elaine McCarten how this made her feel, Ms Purvis said she was initially concerned about a colleague who was leaving with her.

She added: "When I got home I was very upset and frightened and fearful for my personal safety, and continue to be very frightened for my personal safety."

The second alleged incident, which was also played to the court, occurred on February 13.

Ms Purvis claimed that her son and his female friend had called to the clinic to pick up

food and were approached by protesters on the way in.

Saying this had upset her son's friend, Ms Purvis said she walked them to the door of the building to ensure they were okay when they were leaving.

While one of the protesters followed the young girl up the street, Ms Purvis claimed Ms Smyth started to "cackle, laugh in a very exaggerated way" which she found "intimidating" and menacing".

When Mr O'Kane began cross-examining Ms Purvis and asked her about a pro-life group which was set up in Stormont, Deputy District Magistrate Chris Holmes said he "wouldn't allow this case" to become a debate about abortion.

Mr O'Kane accused Ms Purvis of setting up the charge, saying that she knew she needed two alleged incidents of harassment to constitute a complaint to police.

Referring to the second incident, he accused Ms Purvis of knowing Ms Smyth was outside the building, and escorting her son and his friend out to "provoke a response" from his client.

Ms Purvis denied this, saying she didn't want to make the situation worse for her son and his friend as they were "fearful".

After a legal issue arose, the case was then adjourned until September 16, when more witnesses on behalf of both the prosecution and defence are due to give evidence.

n CLAIMS: Dawn Purvis of the Marie Stokes Centre at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday where pro-life campaigner Bernadette Smyth was on trial for harassing her. Right, a 'court battle prayer vigil' taking place outside the court PICTURES: Alan Lewis/Photopress (left) & Hugh Russell

* ACCUSED: Bernadette Smyth, who denies two counts of harassing Dawn Purvis earlier this year

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