DUP's Jim Wells eyes comeback after gay slur case is thrown out
DUP MLA Jim Wells says his six-month nightmare is over after it was confirmed he will not be prosecuted over alleged anti-gay remarks.
Northern Ireland's former Health Minister has been cleared of committing any criminal offence over the row which forced him to leave his job and made headlines across the world.
The Public Prosecution Service said last night there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the South Down politician over comments he was accused of making at a pre-election event in Downpatrick in April.
Last night, Mr Wells said while he was delighted to finally be vindicated, he was still devastated that his career had "crashed" over a lie.
"The past six months have been hell. Imagine if you had been sacked from a job you loved over something you didn't do, over something you didn't say, can you imagine how aghast you'd feel?
"This has been a torturous period in my life. I can't begin to tell you how low I have been," the DUP man told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr Wells' career collapsed after a 30-second video clip of remarks he made during a hustings event, when he appeared to link child abuse to homosexuality, went viral. A complaint was made to police and he was forced to leave his post as Health Minister.
The short clip, which was cut from an eight-minute recording, was replayed on 1,800 publications, television stations, radio stations and websites worldwide.
However, when the PPS examined a transcript of the full eight minutes it became apparent that, in context, Mr Wells had not said what he had been accused of.
"I have been telling people all along that I didn't make those remarks and finally the PPS has backed me up. I have spent the past five months trying to recover my name. This is just fantastic news. I have finally been vindicated," said Mr Wells.
There has been speculation within the Executive that now Mr Wells has been proven innocent he could be reinstated as Health Minister in a ministerial reshuffle.
However, the 57-year-old said he is just happy to clear his name.
"I loved my job as Health Minister. It is a job I always wanted. I had a crack team, the best in the business. I never imagined it would end so quickly. I was devastated to leave my post. It was the happiest eight months of my career.
"But my political future is for others to decide. Any decision on where I go from here is not mine. I will leave that up to party officials," he said.
"Tonight I'm just delighted my name is clear. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm absolutely over the moon."
The PPS confirmed that Mr Wells will not be prosecuted.
A spokeswoman said: "Following careful consideration of all the available evidence provided to the PPS by the PSNI, it has been decided that the case does not meet the test for prosecution.
"Potential offences were considered under the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, in particular an offence under Article 9 (stirring up hatred)."
She added: "Included in the evidence examined by prosecutors was a 30-second video clip which was widely circulated on social media after the event was staged in Downpatrick. The police also provided a longer transcript of a recording of the entirety of the man's comments.
"On examining the available evidence for the incident reported, in particular the entirety of the transcript of the man's comments, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that any offence was committed."
A DUP spokesman said: "The DUP welcomes the announcement by the Public Prosecution Service that it is not to prosecute Jim Wells MLA in connection with an election hustings event in Downpatrick on April 23, 2015.
"These events over the recent past and the associated unfounded allegations have caused considerable distress to Jim and his family. There should never have been any question of Jim facing prosecution in relation to this matter and the announcement from the PPS is long overdue."
Mr Wells resigned in April amid a storm of controversy over the alleged remarks about gay couples.
At the time he was helping to care for his wife Grace - who had suffered two devastating strokes - and was also canvassing as the DUP candidate for South Down in the general election.
Police also investigated a separate incident involving a lesbian couple during an election canvass by Mr Wells in Co Down.
It was alleged that Mr Wells, during door-to-door canvassing, called at the couple's house, and in a conversation was critical of their lifestyle. The daughter of one woman said her mother was upset.
No file was forwarded by police to the PPS over this incident.
Last week, the Belfast Telegraph revealed police had interviewed a 48-year-old woman on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to complaints about Mr Wells' remarks at the hustings event. Detectives have passed a file to the PPS for consideration.