Belfast Telegraph

Ukip MEP in apology to Ulster-born charity boss Mark Russell over 'paedo' smear

By Rebecca Black

A Ukip MEP has apologised to a leading Ulster-born charity boss after she falsely accused him of being a paedophile.

Jane Collins has agreed to make a donation to the Church Army, a charity Mark Russell heads up, after she implied that he was a criminal on Twitter.

The comment came after Mr Russell, who is a Labour Party member, posted support for his party's candidate in the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner by-election.

Ms Collins responded tweeting: "Yes because we'd soon stop your criminal activity. Paedos leave our kids alone. #Ukip."

The context to her comment was that the by-election for the post was prompted by the resignation of the Labour police commissioner Shaun Wright in the wake of the Rotherham child exploitation scandal.

Ms Collins initially refused to apologise for her paedophile implication, saying: "It was aimed at the paedophiles, not you."

However, she later agreed to delete the tweet, conceding it "read wrong", adding: "I'm a bit hot-headed sometimes."

She later tweeted: "I apologise for associating you with paedophiles, but you're still supporting a party that has failed our children badly."

However, Mr Russell said the Ukip MEP was turning her mistake into party politics and threatened her with legal action.

Eventually she conceded: "I am in the wrong… I unreservedly apologise for implication."

Mr Russell told The Guardian newspaper the tweet was highly damaging to his work, which includes supporting vulnerable people.

It was made worse because Collins' accusation was retweeted many times by Ukip supporters, he said. He told Ms Collins: "I've dedicated my life to helping kids and your tweet was as hurtful as offensive… this is my reputation.

"I merely encouraged my fellow South Yorks residents to vote for Alan Billings, the Labour candidate."

Mr Russell is the head of Church Army, an evangelical charity linked to the Church of England that has the Queen as its patron. He added that the MEP had offered to make a donation to the group after he threatened to sue her.

The charity head grew up in Northern Ireland and studied law at Belfast's Queen's University before moving to England as an adult.

He became one of the youngest preachers in the Methodist Church at just 21, and served as youth pastor of Lurgan Methodist. In 2004 the evangelist was appointed as the youngest member of the Archbishops' Council, the senior strategic body of the Church of England.

Alongside this he was a member of the General Synod, and became one of the best known speakers, known for his passionate commitment to mission, particularly with younger people.

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