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Claire Sugden's brother-in-law Paul Butcher fights for life following Limavady motorbike accident

By Claire McNeilly

Published 23/05/2016

Paul Butcher, brother-in-law of MLA Claire Sugden
Paul Butcher, brother-in-law of MLA Claire Sugden
Claire Sugden

A relative of the Assembly member tipped to be named as the new Justice Minister this week is fighting for his life in hospital after a two-vehicle horror crash.

Independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden's brother-in-law Paul Butcher, who is in his early 40s, was riding a motorbike when it collided with a car on the Ballyquin Road in Limavady.

News of the crash comes amid growing speculation that Ms Sugden is being lined up to take over the Department of Justice after Alliance turned down the job.

However, the 29-year-old politician's mind will now be on matters far removed from the corridors of Stormont as her family's focus turns to Mr Butcher's recovery.

It's not yet clear what impact Ms Sugden's terrible personal news will have on the appointment of a new minister. If no-one is appointed by Wednesday, there will be fresh elections.

Ms Sugden, who represents East Londonderry, last night said she was too distressed to talk about the accident, which happened just before 3pm on Saturday.

A Belfast Trust spokesman said Mr Butcher, from Limavady, was in "a critical condition" yesterday in the intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

The PSNI said the motorcyclist, who was initially taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, sustained "serious and life-changing" injuries.

A woman aged in her 20s, who was driving the car, was also taken to hospital for treatment for shock.

It is understood that Mr Butcher, who has children, suffered a broken leg during the incident, and was unconscious and unresponsive when medics attended the scene.

More: I'm not sure I would accept the post of Justice Minister if I was offered... but I'm as entitled to the job as anyone

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph before the crash, Ms Sugden said she hadn't been offered the job and was unsure of whether to accept it - but didn't rule out taking the Executive seat.

"I am aware of all the speculation, but I honestly haven't given it too much serious consideration. There are so many factors to be considered," she said.

"First and foremost is how it would affect my constituents. I did not stand for election thinking that I would become a minister.

"I am a public servant, and I see my job as a politician. That and my constituents will influence any decision I make if I am offered the post.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said his thoughts and prayers were with the families of Ms Sugden and Mr Butcher.

"It is an exceptionally difficult time in ordinary circumstances when an accident of this nature occurs," said Mr Campbell.

"All the family and friends have to endure extreme difficulties until they know their loved one is very much on the way to recovery.

"But for Claire, in particular, given the week she had last week, this will be even more trying and challenging than normal."

The DUP man added: "I want her to know that I, along with the entire local community, will be thinking about her family and praying for her brother-in-law's speedy recovery."

Ms Sugden emerged as an unexpected contender for the politically sensitive Justice Minister's post at Stormont after the Alliance Party said it would not take on the position previously held by its leader David Ford.

Last week, she had a meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness about the ministry, which she afterwards described as a "serious encounter".

On her qualifications for the role, the woman who became an MLA in 2014 after being co-opted to replace political mentor David McClarty on his death, and was voted back in this month, said she had two degrees in politics, and would take a "very strategic approach" if given the post.

Upon hearing the distressing news, Sinn Fein Limavady councillor Brenda Chivers said her thoughts and prayers were with Ms Sugden's family at this very difficult time.

"Everyone in the local area was shocked to hear about Saturday's horrific crash and we are all hoping that Mr Butcher pulls through," she added.

Detectives are asking for anyone with details about the accident to come forward.

Constable Gregg Chambers said: "I would appeal to anyone who knows anything about this road traffic collision to contact Limavady Police Station on the non-emergency number 101."

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