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Firebrand preacher defeats UUP leader Sir Reg Empey in South Antrim

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and architect of an alliance with the Tories has failed in his bid to win South Antrim.

Sir Reg Empey was defeated by the Democratic Unionists' firebrand preacher the Rev William McCrea by just 1,200 votes in a night of dramatic scenes at the count centre near Belfast.

He defended his decision to enter into an alliance with the Conservatives despite the fact that his only sitting MP defected and he has thus far failed to win any seats.

Mr McCrea said: "It may annoy some people but the people have made their choice, the people have spoken, the election is over and the people have spoken." Mr McCrea won 11,536 votes to Sir Reg's 10,353.

The Ulster Unionist leader, a former businessman and Northern Ireland Employment Minister originally educated in Co Armagh, said: "I do think we need new ideas going forward and we put them. So far they have not attracted the level of support we wanted but nevertheless it does not mean it was the wrong thing to do."

Mr McCrea is a Free Presbyterian minister and gospel singer in rural Co. Londonderry. He has advocated the cause of victims of IRA violence and developed a reputation as a fierce Stormont Agriculture Committee chairman.

The seat has see-sawed between Mr McCrea and the Ulster Unionist Party's David Burnside in recent years.

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Sir Reg backed the partnership with the Conservatives and fought under the banner of Conservatives and Unionists.

He is a Northern Ireland Assembly member for East Belfast but decided to contest South Antrim relatively recently when one of the original hopefuls Adrian Watson was ruled out of order by the Conservatives because of his strong views on homosexuality.

Mr McCrea's majority in 2005 was just under 3,500. However the gap between the DUP and Ulster Unionists widened to more than 5,000 in the Assembly poll two years later.

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