Northern Ireland news

Calls for release of chronically ill grandmother jailed for not paying TV licence fines

Anne Smith from Poleglass was arrested for non-payment of fines for not having a TV licence. Picture by Mal McCann

THERE were calls last night for the release of a chronically ill grandmother jailed for non-payment of TV licence fines.

West Belfast woman Anne Smith (59) remained in Hydebank Prison after handing herself in on Wednesday, days after a bench warrant was issued for her arrest.

Ms Smith, from the Poleglass area, is expected to serve a six-day sentence behind bars for non-payment of fines totalling £1,100 for not having a TV licence.

The grandmother has serious mobility problems and also suffers from the debilitating lung condition COPD, as well as osteoporosis.

Speaking to The Irish News earlier this week, she said she was "terrified" at the prospect of being imprisoned.

Her daughter Cashleen Smith last night said she was "really worried" about her mother, who she claimed was even handcuffed as she turned up at the police station.

"She was sick before she went in, throwing up everywhere, she was so worried about going in," she said.

"I spoke to Hydebank and they said she was fine, but that's all they could tell me, they said there was nothing else they could say.

"I haven't heard from her yet, she hasn't phoned me. I'm really worried."

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Raymond McCartney described the jailing of the frail grandmother as a "gross over-reaction" for a "fairly minor offence".

"This is a distressing case," he said.

"The family have made it clear there are mitigating factors given her very serious health problems and efforts were actually being made to pay the outstanding fines at the time she was arrested.

"However, it seems that because the bench warrant had already been issued, this was not accepted and she was instead arrested from her home and is now being held in Hydebank Prison.

"I believe that is a gross over-reaction.

"The system should have showed some flexibility in this case because jailing a chronically grandmother does no-one any service, particularly when she was making good on her efforts to pay the fines.

“The relevant authorities should now intervene, show some common sense and ensure she is immediately released."

Councillor Matt Collins of People Before Profit Alliance also called for her release.

"I have been speaking to Anne's family today, who are naturally very worried and stressed," he said.

"It is disgraceful that a 59-year-old chronically ill woman has been jailed for not paying her TV licence.

"This is callous treatment of a vulnerable working-class woman."

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