A COUNTY Antrim woman who told a journalist at a Sunday newspaper she would "kill" him, has been given a two months prison sentence, suspended for a year, with a judge saying: "It is important in any civil society that we have a free press".
Jane Louise Manders (40), of Shankbridge Road, Kells, pleaded guilty to 'improper use' of public electronic communications' by sending a message of a 'menacing character' in relation to May 13 this year.
A charge of making a 'threat to kill' the journalist was withdrawn by prosecutors.
A prosecutor told Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday - where the defendant appeared via a video link - it had been reported to police on May 13 that a journalist said he had been contacted by Manders on the phone and she "issued a threat" by saying: "I'm going to f..king kill you".
The prosecution lawyer said it seemed the journalist had "contacted her first" and then Manders made "further contact with him".
The prosecutor said the 'threat to kill' charge was withdrawn "because it was accepted that she had no intention or means of carrying it out".
Defence barrister Stephen Law said the defendant had a record but he did not believe it was "particularly relevant to these matters".
He said Manders had been "contacted" by the journalist who was "looking for additional information to complete a report for a province-wide newspaper".
The lawyer added: "Unfortunately, he had come into contact with her 15-year-old son who got very distressed about the situation."
Mr Law said Manders then contacted the journalist and, he told the court, "words were exchanged".
The barrister said the defendant was "highly agitated" which he said was probably because she was a mum who was "losing" her family catering business "in the midst of" the pandemic which has "now folded through the Covid restrictions".
Mr Law added: "On top of that there was this attempt to, perhaps, get personal information, to put it into a newspaper report.
"She accepts and apologises and regrets losing her temper in a time of extreme pressure. She went beyond what she should have done in saying to the gentleman that really she had 'nothing to add'. This was a mistake on her part and she fully accepts that."
The lawyer said Manders is now "unemployed" and on benefits but intends to "attend university to complete a course to enable her to get back on her feet and provide for her family".
Handing down a suspended sentence, District Judge Nigel Broderick said: "What aggravates this is that this involves a member of the press. it is important in any civil society that we have a free press and when anyone does anything to a journalist of this nature it is viewed by the courts as an aggravating feature."
He took into account her guilty plea and noted that the "more serious charge" had been withdrawn.
The judge said a pre-sentence report said she was "not suitable" for Community Service and he didn't believe a fine was appropriate "given your financial situation and the facts of the case".