Ill grandmother sent to jail for not paying TV licence fines
A CHRONICALLY ill grandmother from west Belfast was last night spending her first night in Hydebank Prison after she was arrested for non-payment of fines for not having a TV licence.
Anne Smith (59), who has serious mobility issues and is awaiting a double-hip replacement, was ordered to present herself to police by 5pm yesterday so she could begin a six-day sentence behind bars.
The mother-of-four, who has 12 grandchildren, told The Irish News yesterday that she was "terrified" at the prospect of being imprisoned.
Police called at the Poleglass woman's home on Friday with a bench warrant for her arrest, which had been issued because of unpaid fines for not having a TV licence.
Ms Smith, who suffers from the debilitating lung condition COPD, as well as osteoporosis, said she was given until Monday to try and sort the matter.
However, despite engaging a solicitor and contacting the court to pay the fine, which amounts to just over £1,100, she was prevented from settling the outstanding debt because a bench warrant had already been issued.
Police returned to her address on Tuesday to arrest her however, as some of her young grandchildren were present, police instead told her to present herself to Musgrave Police Station by 5pm yesterday to be taken to Hydebank to begin her detention.
A frail Ms Smith yesterday told the Irish News she was "shocked" when police came to her home in the Woodside area and was "frightened" about going to prison.
"I think it is utterly ridiculous that they would arrest a woman over a TV licence. I wish I had just paid the fines.
"I broke my hip and was unable to get out of the house for a whole year. In hindsight, I should have had a licence but because of my health, and I had to help my sister through cancer, I didn't get to do it."
Ms Smith said she was particularly concerned because she has been banned from taking her medication into Hydebank, including three inhalers which she takes five times a day, as well as painkillers and anti-depressants.
"I have a plate and two screws in my right hip and I'm waiting on a double hip replacement," she said.
"It's mostly the breathing, if I go from here to the back toilet, I can't breath. Going up the stairs, I have to stop three times. My daughter comes every day and helps me to shower.
"The Housing Executive is putting an extension on the house for me so I can sleep downstairs and have a shower."
Ms Smith said she had tried to pay the fines but was prevented from doing so and had also opened her first ever bank account so she could begin paying for a TV licence by direct debit.
"I'm absolutely terrified," she said.
"I don't know what's in front of me and I'm feeling vulnerable. I don't know who I am going to come up against or who I am with."
She added: "I would say to other people, especially those with young children to go and make arrangements to get a TV licence if this is the lengths to go to. I never dreamed they would come and arrest me and put me away."
Ms Smith's friend and neighbour, Marie Flynn said she was "absolutely disgusted" as "at the end of the day" her friend had "tried to pay" the fines.
"I'm really annoyed. She is 59. She has health problems. TV licensing is not being very fair. She knows she has to pay it. It's not as if she was trying to get out of it."