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Slurs, racism rows and that poll... how it turned nasty

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 26/09/2015

Stronghold: David Trimble
Stronghold: David Trimble

The battle for Upper Bann was one of the most hard-fought and acrimonious of the general election.

A former UUP stronghold, dating back to the days of David Trimble and Harold McCusker, it has been in DUP hands since 2005.

This time, sitting MP David Simpson faced a strong challenge from popular UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson.

There was also the possibility of a split unionist vote allowing Sinn Fein to snatch the seat.

The final stages of the campaign saw the battle turn nasty, with allegations of racism and sexism. The UUP was also angered by comments from Mr Simpson's son-in-law.

After vandals drew glasses and blacked out one of Ms Dobson's teeth on a poster, Dave Cassells wrote on Facebook: "Spotted Nanny McPhee in Scarva. Massive improvement."

That was followed by controversy over a poll published by the Portadown Times.

The newspaper failed to acknowledge that the survey had been commissioned by the DUP, angering the UUP.

After winning the seat by 2,264 votes, Mr Simpson then alleged his family had been subjected to "disgraceful" abuse during the campaign.

It was reported the alleged abuse took the form of racist comments on social media targeted at Mr Simpson's adopted adult children, who are originally from Paraguay and India.

In his victory speech, he said there had been a "despicable attack on my family over the past seven weeks, absolutely disgraceful".

Mr Simpson added: "I haven't done this in 18 years in frontline politics and standing here, I call it pathetic, what was done on my family over the past seven weeks. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

At the time Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt challenged Mr Simpson to identify those allegedly responsible.

Yesterday Mr Nesbitt said that "nothing has been forthcoming".

He added: "As no names have been named, I invite him to lift the slur which is keenly felt by many of my colleagues in Upper Bann, and clarify he did not mean to imply any Ulster Unionist was involved in racist abuse."

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