Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionists rally round former leader Nesbitt after he is pictured on floor of Belfast hotel

By Claire Williamson and Cate McCurry

Senior Ulster Unionist figures have rallied behind former party leader Mike Nesbitt after images emerged showing him lying face down on a Belfast hotel floor.

The bizarre pictures showed the politician flat out on the carpet while a woman appeared to sit on him and another holds him by the collar.

It's understood the scene unfolded at Stormont Hotel in east Belfast last month.

The hotel sits yards from the entrance to the Stormont Estate.

Read more: Fionola Meredith: No need to kick a man when he's down... but ex-UUP leader could help his case by explaining weird image

According to reports, the Strangford MLA had been out with friends when it is understood he became involved in a dispute with two guests.

The pictures show Mr Nesbitt lying face down on the carpet. A woman is seen holding him by the collar while another appears to be sitting on his legs.

It was reported that Mr Nesbitt was out with three friends for a drink and was approached when he entered the hotel and asked about his work as a politician.

While the UUP failed to respond to a request for comment, senior party figures gave their backing to the Strangford General Election candidate.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie said that he and others are standing by him.

"Mike is an incredibly honourable and a really decent man.

"He is a very genuine man," he said.

"We don't know the background, but you look at it and say, 'Here is a man who has gone out with friends on a social night and has found himself in the papers, even though he's not out in a political guise'.

"Or you can say that we all know that when you go out we are all liable to this sort of attention, and it's a game that we are in.

"I don't think many people have raised much about this picture.

"I look at it and I find it an extraordinary picture - but that's all.

"The one who is holding him by the collar seems to be trying to pick him up, it's nearly a farcical picture.

"This is Mike's business and it's up to him to comment on it.

"People are standing by him as they are looking at it and saying we don't know what it's about and we are not going to speculate. If there was an altercation and that was the end of the altercation I would imagine that Mike has nearly stepped aside and allowed it to stop it from getting worse.

"No-one is paying much heed to it."

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott also backed the former party leader.

"There's no issues with it that I have heard, no one is questioning it," he said.

He added that he knew nothing about the incident.

When he was asked about what had occurred, Mr Nesbitt told a national newspaper that "things happened" and did not elaborate on how he ended up on the floor.

"I don't want to say any more," the told The Sun.

"When you have a profile and you go out in public, you can't expect people to fully respect your privacy."

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph visited the General Election hopeful at his constituency office in Newtownards.

Mr Nesbitt refused to be drawn on the circumstances surrounding the pictures and declined to answer any of the Belfast Telegraph's questions.

But it was business as usual as the former UUP leader met with constituents in his office.

Mr Nesbitt resigned as UUP leader following a poor show in the Assembly election in March.

A representative for the Stormont Hotel said it would not comment. UUP leader Robin Swann did not reply to a request for comment when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph.

Belfast Telegraph

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