Belfast Telegraph

'No prospect' of Paisley recall petition prosecutions

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley
Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan
Timothy Gaston
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The Public Prosecution Service has decided not to prosecute three individuals over social media comments about the Ian Paisley recall petition.

After reviews of police investigations, prosecutors found there was "no reasonable" prospect of proving the posts amounted to criminal offences.

Mr Paisley was suspended from Parliament for failing to declare lavish luxury holidays to Sri Lanka and lobbying on behalf of its government last year. His suspension - the longest any MP has served on record - brought about the petition which failed to gain the 10% required to force a by-election. Mr Paisley said the result was an endorsement of his position as MP.

During the six-week petition period it was illegal to gave an indication of how many had signed it.

Breaching those rules was punishable by a fine or up to six months in prison.

Timothy Gaston, a Bannside representative on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was investigated by police after admitting on social media he signed the petition to oust the North Antrim MP last year.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan also published a video urging people to sign saying the result was "on a knife edge" and faced a police probe.

Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea asked both to remove the posts and the matter was reported to police by Ian Paisley.

The Public Prosecution Service received reports on three individuals from police. Following consideration of the files in line with its code for prosecutors, it confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph no one would face prosecution.

“We can confirm that a decision has been taken not to prosecute three individuals reported to the PPS by police investigating an alleged breach of electoral law," a spokeswoman said.

“After a careful consideration of all available evidence, it has been decided there is no reasonable prospect of proving to the required standard that comments posted on social media during the signing period of a Parliamentary Recall Petition amounted to a criminal offence.

TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said: "With police resources already well over stretched I wonder how much this farce has cost the public purse? I am sure many people across North Antrim would agree with me that the police time wasted on me would of been better spent investigating genuine crime in the area."

Sinn Fein was asked for comment.

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