Belfast Telegraph

What do people in Mike Nesbitt's constituency think of bizarre picture?

By Allan Preston

Constituents enjoying the sun outside the office of former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt yesterday expressed their surprise after the Strangford MLA was photographed face down on a Belfast hotel floor.

The baffling images show Mr Nesbitt flat out on the lobby's carpet while one woman sits on his legs and another holds on to his collar.

It's understood the incident took place in the Stormont Hotel, Belfast last month while the politician was out with friends and became involved in an argument with two guests about politics.

Mr Nesbitt quit as UUP leader in March after his party's poor showing in the Assembly election.

Although Mr Nesbitt - the UUP's General Election candidate for Strangford - has confirmed that the picture is of him, his reluctance to explain what happened in detail has only increased the curiosity surrounding the incident.

Speaking to a national newspaper, Mr Nesbitt has so far only said that "things happened" and "I don't want to say anymore".

"When you have a public profile and you go out in public, you can't expect people to fully respect your privacy," he said.

Senior UUP party colleagues were quick to defend Mr Nesbitt this week, while admitting they too did not have all the details.

Passersby outside Mr Nesbitt's constituency office in Newtownards yesterday included Comber college student Jacob Horner (17). "It's a shocking picture," he said, "but I don't particularly follow politics so it wouldn't really change my opinion of him."

Sitting across the street in Carlton Square in front of the Town Hall, retired local resident David Johnston (53), said he was disappointed.

"I was surprised by this, I thought better of him," he said.

"But then he hasn't said a lot about it yet. I did have a very high opinion of him as a politician so at the moment I'm disappointed, but you have to find out the full facts."

Robert George (79), from Newtownards said: "It doesn't send out a good message for the UUP but then he's never sent out a good message for his party.

"This idea of splitting the votes with the SDLP in the last election, he did the wrong thing there. With this we just don't know yet, but he hasn't done himself any favours."

One woman who preferred not to be named defended Mr Nesbitt.

"I think he's a nice man, I actually interviewed him in the square here for our church about Easter. He was really pleasant and had good answers and seemed to have a good Christian view on it," she said. "I wouldn't want to say more without knowing the full facts of the story. I wouldn't be surprised if people are using it have a go at him. Things are a bit cut-throat in politics at the minute and people are using nasty tactics. But obviously something has happened, but who knows what?"

As they enjoyed tea and buns outside a cafe, senior citizens Myrtle Leckie and Nancy Cromie said the pictures only added to their already dim view of the Strangford MLA.

"I wouldn't vote for him if he was the last person on earth," said Ms Leckie, who said she was startled by the picture.

"He should not have been getting on like that and he has let himself down," added Ms Cromie.

But Sally Miller and Anne Hunter, both aged 71, said it was unfair to judge Mr Nesbitt harshly.

"Well, it wasn't very nice to see. You go out socially for a night and you don't want that to happen to you," said Mrs Miller.

"We don't know the truth of it yet but he still hasn't cleared up why it happened."

Mrs Hunter added: "If you go out for a night out you should be entitled to some peace.

"If you stopped Mike Nesbitt in the town though he would stop and have a yarn with you. He's approachable. I'm willing to give him a chance and I'd like to know exactly what he did."

Sally's husband Jim Miller (68), said: "I think he was actually trying to broaden things out a bit by encouraging people to share their vote with the SDLP."

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