Former Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting avoids jail over drag queen harassment injunction

Jolene Bunting outside court in Belfast. Pic Presseye.
Jolene Bunting Credit: PA

A former TUV councillor who breached an injunction against harassing a drag queen has avoided imprisonment.

Jolene Bunting instead received a four-month conditional discharge for violating the order to immediately remove a video about Belfast actor Matthew Cavan from all social media platforms.

She was warned that any further infringements could still result in a jail sentence being imposed.

Her Honour Judge Harmer said: “This was not an unintentional breach or a mistake, but a deliberate breach of an order directed by the court.”

Mr Cavan, also known as drag artist Cherrie Ontop, brought committal proceedings at Belfast County Court as part of his protection from harassment claim against Ms Bunting.

In July she was involved in protests at an arts centre in the city where the actor was taking part in a children’s story time event.

A group calling themselves Parents Against Grooming held banners which read “hands off our children” outside the MAC theatre.

Mr Cavan obtained an interim injunction on August 9 pending the outcome of the wider action.

The former Belfast City councillor was ordered to take down a video about him posted on YouTube and any other social media outlets.

Ms Bunting appeared in court after failing to comply with that requirement and putting up a further message about the case on her Twitter account.

At a hearing last week, she accepted breaching the order and confirmed the material was removed at that stage on obtaining legal advice.

Mr Cavan gave evidence that he has lost work, been wrongly accused of grooming children, and pursued by paedophile hunters because of the postings.

The actor said he is so terrified that he has installed security cameras and lights at his home.

“My anxiety levels are through the roof, I am finding it difficult to leave the house because I am scared of what’s going to happen when I do,” he told the court.

“I believe she has exposed me as a human being, and I have had messages… that I should be totally ashamed of myself, taking a good God-abiding citizen to court.”

Counsel for the drag artist argued that nothing less than imprisonment was appropriate for Ms Bunting’s “flagrant disregard” for the injunction.

Passing sentence today, Judge Harmer set out two objectives: punishment and to ensure future compliance.

She acknowledged the harm caused to Mr Cavan’s mental health and employment prospects, and that Ms Bunting had been warned of the consequences of defying the terms of the order.

“Irrespective of her personal views and the delay in securing legal representation, she must take responsibility,” she pointed out.

However, it was stressed that a custodial sanction is “a measure of last resort”.

Based on Ms Bunting’s belated removal of all social media content, admission to the breach and her previous clear record, she was instead conditionally discharged for four months.

“I consider this to be a lenient sentence,” Judge Harmer told her.

“I appreciate you have indicated an intention to defend the proceedings issued by the plaintiff, but the injunction is still in place pending the final hearing and if you breach the injunction again there is a significant risk you will receive a prison sentence.”