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UUP leadership battle could end up in courts

The Ulster Unionist leadership race is teetering on the brink of chaos amid threats of legal action over the party’s list of members.

There are also claims that the date of the election to replace Sir Reg Empey, now just a fortnight away, may have to be postponed.

As the contest between contenders Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea becomes increasingly acrimonious, senior UUP sources voiced fears the row could end up in the courts.

The party’s officers team met in urgent session last night after the reliability of its official membership list was called into question, and more meetings are planned.

The Belfast Telegraph understands many on the list have not paid dues and in some cases missed several deadlines to do so.

Letters are to be sent informing individuals they cannot take part in the vote on Wednesday, September 22, despite an amnesty offer by party chairman David Campbell a few months ago.

Mr McCrea said: “I can confirm I did formally ask to see the membership list when I submitted my nomination papers last week.

“I think it is only fair that I get the list so I can see who the people are I have to canvass. But so far it has not been made available.

“This is the first time that we have held a one member, one vote election for party leader and it is imperative that those who are entitled to vote are able to.”

But the Lagan Valley MLA said he had no comment to make on speculation over legal action.

Mr Elliott, widely viewed as the favourite to succeed Sir Reg, also voiced concerns over the list but believes a crisis can be avoided.

“If there are any discrepancies I believe they would be minor. I did raise some questions but received answers I was satisfied with. I want to make clear I will accept the outcome,” the Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA said.

A senior source said there had been a “thinly veiled threat” that if the issue is not resolved, there will be a bid to seek a High Court judicial review if Mr Elliott wins.

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