Witnesses 'bullied' at Basil McCrea sexual conduct inquiry lodge complaints against investigator
Witnesses in a Stormont probe into allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by NI21 leader Basil McCrea have lodged complaints about the investigator.
Two official complaints have been made to Stormont's Standards and Privileges Committee about the Commissioner for Standards, Douglas Bain, who is investigating the allegations against Mr McCrea.
The two witnesses have claimed they were unhappy with the way they were treated by Mr Bain during interview. They also raised concern over his handling of such a sensitive investigation.
The complaints were made after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the key witness withdrew from the probe as she was too "traumatised" to continue.
Allegations of misconduct surfaced against Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea last year, and in light of the serious allegations the Commissioner for Standards launched an investigation into the former UUP politician.
However, Ashleigh Murray, the woman at the heart of the allegations, is understood to have walked out of an interview with Mr Bain because she was "stressed and traumatised" by his treatment of her claims.
And now two further witnesses have raised concern about how Mr Bain handled their evidence. Mr Bain has insisted that all witnesses who assisted in the investigation "were dealt with in a proper manner." In a written complaint to the Standards and Privileges Committee, one of the witnesses claimed that while giving evidence she was left to feel as though she was the person being investigated for wrongdoing.
She accused Mr Bain of treating her like a "hostile witness" and described his manner as being "bullish and intimidating".
The witness, who accompanied Ms Murray to one of the meetings, said she had been "appalled" at the way Mr Bain spoke to her and that he had reduced her to tears.
A second complainant said he came away from giving evidence feeling "belittled" and as though he had been the one under investigation.
He said he found his engagement with Mr Bain "unpleasant" and that the experience did not give him any confidence in the process.
However, Mr Bain said: "The allegations made by witnesses relate to a complaint against a Member that has still to be considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. It would be inappropriate to respond to them at this stage other than to state categorically that all witnesses who assisted me in that investigation were dealt with in a proper manner."
Jimmy Spratt, the former chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, said he had received complaints from two witnesses making "serious allegations" about Mr Bain.
He said he had forwarded the complaints to the committee to deal with upon his retirement.
"Two people came forward to me and made, what I consider to be, serious allegations," said Mr Spratt.
The former South Belfast MLA added: "I have left those complaints with the committee. I think there needs to be a very serious look at how this commissioner operates. The whole system needs to be improved."
During a debate in the Assembly in July, Mr Spratt described Mr Bain as a "pompous, arrogant, self-serving and patronising individual" who was "not someone with whom it is pleasurable to do business".
Mr Spratt said he was concerned that there was no avenue - particularly for "a young, vulnerable" civilian "traumatised" by the commissioner - to make a complaint.