Chronically-ill grandmother jailed in Belfast after not paying TV licence released from prison
A chronically-ill grandmother from west Belfast who was jailed after not paying her TV licence has been released.
Anne Smith (59), from Poleglass, was imprisoned after she did not pay a £1,100 (€1,120) court fine for failing to pay her television licence.
The mother-of-four, who has 12 grandchildren, was released from Hydebank Prison on Friday.
Mrs Smith has serious mobility issues, suffers from the debilitating lung condition COPD, and is waiting on a double-hip replacement
A bench warrant was issued for her arrest earlier this week after she failed to pay a court fine- issued as a result of the non-payment of her TV licence.
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey, speaking at a rally at Belfast's International Wall following Mrs Smith's release, said: “I welcome the release of Anne Smith. I am glad that common sense has prevailed as she should never have been put in jail.
“Since hearing the news of her arrest, we have worked with her family and have lobbied the Northern Ireland Office in an attempt to secure her release.
“The family have been clearly stating that Anne has had serious health issues in recent times and that should have been taken into account before the decision to imprison her.
“There is an onus on the relevant authorities to ensure that measures are put in place to ensure that, in exceptional circumstances, compassion prevails and this never happens again."
The Irish News reported Mrs Smith had engaged a solicitor and contacted the court to try and pay the fine but was unable to settle it as the bench warrant had already been issued.
In a statement, a spokesperson for TV Licensing - which collects the licence fee - said prosecutions were only pursued as a "last resort when all other options are exhausted" and the maximum fine for an unpaid television licence was £1,000 (€1,120), along with associated court costs and a victim surcharge.
"Newspaper reports say Mrs Smith has been sentenced to prison for non-payment of court fines for TV Licence evasion. The sentence is a matter for the courts and TV Licensing has no involvement in this decision," the spokesperson said.
"The majority of first time offenders are not prosecuted if they buy a licence within a specified time. There are many ways to pay, including weekly cash payments and we are currently trialling the Simple Payment Plan which offers even more help to those who might struggle to pay.
"We work with nearly 500 organisations across the UK, including many in Northern Ireland, to offer advice and support.”