A Dublin court has heard how a former Irish solider found guilty of being a member of the so-called Islamic State (IS) was an “extremely vulnerable person” who was “treated like a servant” by her late husband when in Syria.
The details emerged as her barrister argued that the former soldier should receive a suspended sentence.
Ex-Defence Forces member Lisa Smith, 40, was found guilty of membership of the so-called Islamic State (IS) terror group, and was acquitted of a separate charge of financing terrorism, after a nine-week trial at Dublin’s non-jury Special Criminal Court.
Smith, a convert to Islam, travelled to Syria in 2015 after terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on Muslims to travel to the country.
In a sentencing hearing on Monday, barrister Michael O’Higgins SC argued that considering the state of Ms Smith’s marriage to a man who the prosecution has claimed was a member of IS while in Syria is “a very relevant factor in mitigation”.
The court heard how Ms Smith’s husband was in control, but that this “suited her” as she feared making decisions for herself and the consequences if she made the wrong one.
Mr O’Higgins said that when Ms Smith became pregnant, “throughout the pregnancy there was fighting”.
“She used to say ‘May God take the baby if we continue fighting like this’. All [her husband] heard on one occasion was ‘May god take the baby’ and he was triggered, and a ferocious beating followed,” the barrister said.
“She received black eyes, she was battered black and blue, she was very scared and was shaking in the corner, terrified in case there was more beating.”
The court heard various incidences where Ms Smith’s husband had been physically and verbally abusive with her, including when she was dragged across the room by her hair, and how she still has pains on the side of her head to this day.
“She was treated like a servant. He made all the major decisions.”
Ms Smith was seen in court dabbing her face with a tissue during the evidence.
Extracts from one of a number of reports read out in court noted that Ms Smith had a “remarkably negative evaluation of herself, her life and her intended purpose”, and that she “is likely to be plagued” by her thoughts.
“She reports a number of difficulties which are consistent with a significant depressive experience. This depression has affected her whole life.”
The report also said that she has a tendency to “subordinate her own interests with those of others”.
Mr O’Higgins argued that conditions endured by Ms Smith in a Syrian camp, combined with the strict bail conditions imposed on her for two- and-a-half years in Ireland, meant that a suspended sentence was warranted.
“We are respectfully submitting for the court to impose a suspended sentence,” Mr O’Higgins said.
“If the court was of the view that there had to be a custodial element, my respectful submission is that Ms Smith is uniquely placed to make a case that any custodial sentence that could be imposed has already been served.”
The psychological report said that Ms Smith had been living under “significant” bail restrictions for the past two-and-a-half years, including a 13-hour curfew each day for over 30 months.
The court also heard that after leaving Baghuz, Ms Smith stayed at the Al Hawl camp from February to mid April in an “undercurrent of fear”, with guards patrolling the area and “dogs let out at night”.
“If you were to amalgamate the two… you’d be talking about a sentence of four years,” the court heard.
Mr O’Higgins continued that if those two arguments are not accepted, there should be a sentence on the “lower end”, particularly considering Ms Smith’s child and “all of the very unusual circumstances”.
“A headline sentence in my second submission would be perhaps 18 months or two years, or perhaps even less than that.”
Sean Gillane SC, for the prosecution, made a number of legal arguments in relation to offsetting time spent in the Syrian camp against a jail sentence in Ireland.
Mr O’Higgins SC read extracts from a psychological report that said Ms Smith found bail conditions difficult.
“Some of this is to do with her paranoia, which arises out of people staring at her, sentiments that she’s being being judged all the time,” Mr O’Higgins said.
“Her current situation is, she stays at the mother’s house all the time.”
Mr O’Higgins said that the psychological reports presented “a picture of an extremely vulnerable person, but accompanying that vulnerability is a great level of stoicism in terms of dealing with whatever hand she’s been dealt with”.
Mr O’Higgins pointed out that Ms Smith has engaged well with Gardai during interviews, and is “a very engaging person”.
“The fact that four eminent experts have examined this case and reached such startlingly similar conclusions can give the court confidence that the findings are rooted in sound psychological assessment.”
Mr Justice Tony Hunt, one of the three judges presiding, acknowledged that it were aspects to the case that were novel.
The case is due back before the court on July 22 at 11am for sentencing.