Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist MLA Gardiner strikes reporter and dodges cameras at employment tribunal

By Adrian Rutherford

An MLA struck a journalist on the face with an umbrella as he attempted to avoid being photographed outside an employment tribunal.

Samuel Gardiner took exception to having his picture taken as he left the hearing in Belfast.

The Ulster Unionist politician tried to shield his face using the large black umbrella.

He was aided by a party researcher, who attempted to shepherd the Belfast Telegraph employee away.

At one point Mr Gardiner (75), jabbed the umbrella at the journalist, striking him on the face close to his right eye. The reporter was not seriously injured.

Mark Ovens, a party researcher who accompanied Mr Gardiner to the hearing, intervened, pushing the umbrella away before moving Mr Gardiner clear.

Mr Ovens also attempted to block the employee from taking further images. Mr Ovens told them to "grow up", questioned their credibility as a journalist and threatened to report them to the UUP's head of communications.

The pair left the area without making any comment on the case, which has been taken by William Lloyd Lavery. Mr Lavery worked for Mr Gardiner for 11 years as a press officer and adviser. He now acts as a Press officer for Ukip's Northern Ireland operation.

Asked to comment on Mr Gardiner's behaviour - which was captured on camera - a UUP spokesman said he did not believe his actions were intentional.

"If the Belfast Telegraph believes that there was any intention to assault one of their reporters, they should take it to the PSNI," he said.

Mr Gardiner's reluctance to be photographed is surprising, as he has been in the public eye as an MLA for Upper Bann since 2003.

His image appears on the Ulster Unionist Party and Northern Ireland Assembly websites.

Mr Gardiner was elected to Lurgan Borough Council - which later became Craigavon Borough Council - in 1963. He served as mayor of Lurgan in 1968 and mayor of Craigavon on three more occasions.

Mr Gardiner is a former High Sheriff for County Armagh and a Justice of the Peace. He is a past president and life member of Waringstown Cricket Club and a former bell-ringer, member of vestry and glebe warden of Shankill Parish Church.

His profile on the Assembly website lists his hobbies as gardening and koi carp fish. It is the second time in little over two months that a Belfast Telegraph employee has been targeted while carrying out their duties. In June a clergyman threw a basin of water over an employee and threatened to sue this newspaper for publishing his picture.

Rev Tom Conway later apologised for his behaviour.

Rev Conway, who had taken over at the troubled St Matthias Church at Knocknamuckley, near Portadown, lashed out after conducting his first Sunday service at the church. Photographs show the former Ulster Hospital chaplain shouting and hurling a basin of water at the employee.

Belfast Telegraph


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