THE former deputy lord mayor of Belfast has been granted permission to attend ‘legal parades’.
The ruling in favour of the south Belfast DUP councillor Ruth Patterson was made at Belfast Magistrates’ Court despite police objections.
Party colleague and future Health Minister, Jim Wells MLA, cheered the court’s decision as a “victory”.
Ms Patterson appeared in court in August charged with sending an electronic message that was grossly offensive.
During the court hearing on Thursday, district judge Fiona Bagnall heard that Belfast City Council had replaced her iPhone and iPad as she needed them of “constituency work”.
Her previous phone and tablet had been seized by police for forensic examination.
The PSNI investigation has now widened to England to try and trace the original source of the offensive Facebook comment.
During her hearing in August, Ruth Patterson’s lawyer Denis Moloney told Belfast Magistrates Court that she planned to contest the charge.
The DUP Belfast City councillor was charged in July by detectives over the Facebook comment about an imaginary attack at an IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.
A PSNI detective told the court in August that he believed he could connect the defendant, from Ravenhill Avenue, in east Belfast, to the charges.
Defence solicitor Denis Moloney said she would be contesting the single charge.
He said: “The matter gained notoriety because of the defendant’s humble and contrite apology.”
The solicitor told District Judge Fiona Bagnall the apology did not affect his client’s ability to contest the charges.
He described Ms Patterson’s arrest as “malicious and draconian” and appealed for the case to be heard as soon as possible so “it does not hang over her like the sword of Damocles”.
The solicitor also said there were a number of issues he wished to raise with the investigating police officer.
There was applause from the public gallery at the end of the five minute hearing and the district judge called for quiet before ordering the court to be cleared.
Some supporters covered their faces and used umbrellas to prevent the media from taking pictures as Ms Patterson entered and left the court building.