Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Simpson slated over false Afghan troops trip claim - party says it was 'printing error'

By Steven Alexander

A DUP Westminster candidate has come under fire after one of his election leaflets falsely claimed he had visited British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.

The DUP blamed a "printing error" for a claim on a leaflet that former Upper Bann MP David Simpson "has visited British troops on the front line in Afghanistan".

While Mr Simpson had planned a visit to Afghanistan with Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis in 2010, the MoD stopped the two political heavyweights from going - because neither could fit in a flak jacket.

The claim in the leaflet has been strongly criticised by rival Upper Bann candidate, Doug Beattie - who received a Military Cross for his heroism in the war-torn country.

Asked to comment on the claim, Ulster Unionist Mr Beattie said Mr Simpson should apologise to voters. He said: "I am extremely disappointed, given that in 2010 and 2011, I was standing and fighting in Afghanistan."

Mr Beattie said that "without doubt" the leaflet "is misleading the electorate".

He called on Mr Simpson to "put the record straight and apologise to those brave men and women who did serve in Afghanistan, and move on".

Mr Beattie praised former DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a former soldier too, who visited his Royal Irish unit in Afghanistan. "He knows how important it is to stand face-to-face with the soldiers and listen to their issues and grievances," he added.

A DUP spokesman said the claim was due to a "printing error" and Mr Simpson had "witnessed the bravery of our soldiers in Iraq", rather than Afghanistan. In November 2010, Mr Simpson and Lord Maginnis were told a scheduled trip to Helmand had to be postponed because they could not fit into the mandatory body armour.

The armour kits go up to a 49in chest and are issued to visiting guests such as VIPs and politicians during visits.

They had been set to fly out to meet soldiers in the Royal Irish Regiment on a morale-boosting visit.

At the time, a DUP spokesman said Mr Simpson had been on MoD trips to Afghanistan "on a number of occasions before" and the situation had arisen because of "security issues".

"David has been to Afghanistan on a number of occasions and fitted with his body armour several times there is no issue with size," the spokesman said.

"The issue was purely to do with security on David's behalf."

But in a statement at the time, the Ministry of Defence said: "Nobody is allowed to board an aircraft to Afghanistan without correctly fitting body armour.

"The MoD provides a wide range of sizes but regrettably none was suitable on this occasion.

"We recognise the importance of politicians visiting Afghanistan but this trip has been postponed while we try to source sufficiently sized body armour."

Lord Maginnis flew out to meet the troops a few months later. However, he was accompanied on that occasion by then DUP MP Jim Shannon.

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