DUP's David Simpson pens astonishing 1,000-word letter to UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
Simmering spat over election tactics explodes into bitter conflict
A simmering unionist row between DUP MP David Simpson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has erupted into open warfare.
An astonishing war of words broke out between the two politicians after Mr Simpson last night responded to challenges from the Ulster Unionist leader about the conduct of members of his party.
In an open letter, Mr Simpson detailed a series of attacks on his family alleged to have come from self-styled Ulster Unionist supporters and threatened to go to the authorities. He said comments about the ethnic origin of his children, who are now adults, and the fact that they were adopted, were "disgraceful".
Mike Nesbitt last night responded by claiming the DUP man had failed to produce any evidence to support his claims.
The row was sparked during Mr Simpson's victory speech when he retained the Upper Bann seat from UUP rival Jo-Anne Dobson last week. He claimed that his family had been subjected to a "despicable attack". It was reported that the 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.
Last weekend, Mr Nesbitt sent an open letter saying he would not be found wanting if evidence was produced against any of his party members. Later, he said the DUP MP had provided no further information and challenged him to withdraw the allegations.
But the row escalated with Mr Simpson's reply, which claimed that at the election count one person drew their hand across their throat, suggesting they wanted to "slice the throat" of a DUP supporter.
He continued: "Likewise I was disappointed to be publicly labelled a liar, a cheat and a manipulator."
He also referred to comments on Twitter by the UUP's General Secretary Colin McCusker that said: "Politics is a blood sport... if you can't stick the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Mr Simpson said: "I would be alarmed and disturbed if he was referencing hurtful comments made during the campaign, and I would seek clarification on this."
Former Craigavon Lord Mayor Mr McCusker, who is the son of the former UUP MP Harold McCusker, said he did not want to comment "at this stage".
Mr Simpson said he intended to make no further comment but warned that "where necessary, we will refer any relevant issues to the appropriate authorities".
His letter went on: "As someone who started my business from my kitchen table, my wife and I know that few walks of life are more difficult than business.
"Politics does not need to be dirty. People who seem to take delight in it being a 'blood sport' do a great disservice to those who enter politics to improve their community and give a voice to the voiceless. I don't say to those people 'bring it on', I say to them, 'wise up and grow up'."
Last night, Mr Nesbitt hit back and said Mr Simpson had failed to produce evidence to substantiate his claims.
"He has had a full week to come up with the evidence and he has failed, leaving me with nothing to investigate and no case to answer," he added. "He hasn't named names, apart from an insinuation against Colin McCusker. I have spoken to Colin and he has no case to answer.
"And could I remind David Simpson, if he is talking about the unprofessional conduct of supporters, to remind himself by going to the Belfast Telegraph archives and remembering the utterly abusive way in which David and Daphne Trimble were treated at the count in 2001."
The war of words was sparked within minutes of Mr Simpson's 2,200-vote victory over the Ulster Unionist candidate.
Mr Simpson said the campaign had descended "into the gutter" and added: "I have been involved in politics for 18 years and I have never seen anything as despicable and personal.
"It's an awful situation where someone adopts an international family and where that family is lambasted, maybe because of their colour or for whatever."
Mr Nesbitt said: "I am disappointed but also angry because some Ulster Unionist staff members have been verbally abused in our offices by members of the public who have been pumped up by the allegation."
The two parties have also been at loggerheads over a poll - which the DUP admitted it commissioned - published in a newspaper, showing Sinn Fein could seize the Upper Bann seat.