Saturday 19 April 2014

Facebook post councillor in court

Democratic Unionist councillor Ruth Patterson, arriving at Belfast Magistrates Court in connection with a comment she posted on Facebook
Democratic Unionist councillor Ruth Patterson, arriving at Belfast Magistrates Court in connection with a comment she posted on Facebook

Senior members of the Democratic Unionist Party including a minister in the power sharing Executive crowded into the public gallery at a Belfast court as a party colleague was accused of posting an offensive Facebook message.

Edwin Poots who is in charge of the health department at Stormont, former finance minister Sammy Wilson and Gavin Robinson, the ex Belfast lord mayor, were among those who stood with supporters when it was confirmed Ruth Patterson would be pleading not guilty.

She was charged with sending a message that was deemed to be grossly offensive, indecent or obscene or of a menacing character via public electronic communications network last month.

Her solicitor Denis Moloney said even though Mrs Patterson, a former deputy lord mayor, had issued a humble and contrite apology it did not affect his client's ability to contest the charges.

"The matter gained notoriety because of the humble and contrite apology," he said.

He described her arrest as malicious and draconian and urged the case to be held as soon as possible.

"I would like to ask for six weeks so that it is not hanging over her like the sword of Damocles," added Mr Moloney.

Mrs Patterson, 57, was detained by the Police Service of Northern Ireland over remarks made on the social networking site responding to a post about an imaginary massacre on a controversial IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone earlier this month.

In the message the former nurse and retired member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) is alleged to have said the attackers "would have done a great service to Northern Ireland".

She later withdrew the comments and apologised. The DUP described them as unacceptable.

Mrs Patterson smiled as she entered the dock in courtroom number 10 just before midday wearing a fuchsia pink jacket, black top and necklace.

A PSNI detective said he believed he could connect the defendant to the charges.

Lawyer, Mr Moloney said there were a number of issues he had been asked to raise about the nature of Mrs Patterson's arrest but did not wish to question the detective in the witness box because he was not the investigating officer.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall adjourned the case for eight weeks at the request of the prosecution.

She said: "I would prefer to take it for eight weeks and have a decision rather than bring it back after six and not have a decision."

Some supporters erupted into applause at the end of the five-minute hearing and as they left the gallery called out "no surrender". A number of others verbally abused police officers with taunts that included "this is political policing" and "we know the law is not on our side" before Judge Bagnall ordered that the courtroom be cleared.

As she left the Laganside Court complex Mrs Patterson was flanked by DUP colleagues including Junior Stormont Minister Jonathan Bell, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Christopher Stalford as well as councillors Brian Kingston, Guy Spence and Frank McCoubrey.

Prominent Union flag protesters Willie Frazer and Jim Dowson were among a crowd who had gathered outside. Some loyalists covered their faces and used umbrellas to prevent media from taking pictures as Mrs Patterson walked out.

Originally from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, Mrs Patterson moved to Belfast to train as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital during the turbulent 1970s. She later joined the UDR claiming she felt a deep sense of duty to protect her community against the growing IRA threat.

Her political career began in 2000 when she was appointed campaign manager for Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds during the 2001 Westminster election - the year she was elected to represent the Balmoral district.

The firebrand representative, whose Balmoral constituency includes working class areas of south Belfast, has previously courted controversy.

In 2011 she snubbed the Sinn Fein lord mayor Niall O'Donnghaile by refusing to shake his hand minutes after his appointment.

Speaking afterwards Mr Wilson pledged his support for the DUP member.

He said: "We were determined to come down and show support for someone who has been a good party member.

"I know Ruth well, I have canvassed for her in Balmoral and the fact that she gets elected time and time again shows she has the trust of the people of her area.

"I hope that when this matter does be eventually heard that it will be dealt with in the right manner."

Mrs Patterson declined to comment.

The case was adjourned until October 17.

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