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Court action over General Election result to focus on six votes

A unionist unity candidate in the last General Election is claiming six crucial votes should not have counted in his defeat to Sinn Fein, it has emerged in court.

Details of a key part of Rodney Connor's legal challenge to losing the Fermanagh and South Tyrone poll emerged ahead of next week's hearing into the result.

Senior judges expressed astonishment that 47,000 accepted votes were not trawled through to identify the disputed papers.

The unionist representative was beaten by Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew by four votes after three recounts.

He is claiming there were breaches of the statutory rules and is seeking a scrutiny of the votes, a recount and a determination that Ms Gildernew was not duly elected.

The victorious Sinn Fein candidate insists she was properly returned as MP for the area in May.

Part of Mr Connor's case involves claims that more votes than had been issued were found in some ballot boxes.

Judges who are due to hear the petition when it opens in Dungannon next week heard a further claim that some papers should not have counted.

Paul Maguire QC, for the returning officer, said: “For the first time there is a factual situation described in which it is alleged certain votes, wholly unidentifiable, ought to have been rejected.”

Mr Maguire argued these were not going to be put before the court for any examination.

Patrick Good, appearing for Mr Connor, said there was a “practical difficulty” in the six votes being among 47,000 admitted in the count.

He told the review hearing at the High Court in Belfast that one witness, James Cooper, saw four votes that should have been rejected.

Mr Connor's election agent wife Liz identified a further two votes that should not have been included, it was claimed.

After being told of the situation, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Mr Justice Gillen, said: “The court sees enormous difficulty if these votes are not identified.”

He pointed out that, if Mr Connor is right, the six in dispute “make all the difference”.

Sir Declan added: “Your evidence is likely to be that you have two witnesses who claim votes should have been rejected. The deputy returning officer who examined them decided they shouldn't be rejected, but should be admitted.”

Despite expressing concern Sir Declan confirmed that the Election Court case was ready to proceed on Monday.

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