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Lawyer in charge of Jimmy Spratt investigation used Wikipedia to look up cases of dishonesty

By Deborah McAleese

The Assembly's standards commissioner has been criticised for using Wikipedia for research while investigating a complaint against an MLA.

Douglas Bain, a trained lawyer, used the online search tool to research legal cases involving dishonesty as part of a probe into retired DUP assemblyman Jimmy Spratt.

He also used an online English dictionary for a definition of dishonesty.

Mr Spratt was cleared of any wrongdoing following two intense investigations by Mr Bain into a complaint after the South Belfast MLA had described opponents of a conflict resolution centre at the Maze as "nutters" during a Stormont committee meeting.

The first investigation concluded that the word had been directed at a party colleague.

A second investigation was launched into alleged dishonesty, following a newspaper report that Mr Spratt had denied making the comment. That probe also cleared the former RUC man.

The Belfast Telegraph has seen a number of the documents that formed part of Mr Bain's second investigation into Mr Spratt. They included case law from Wikipedia and a definition of dishonesty from an online English dictionary.

"It is absolutely crazy that I was investigated in the first place. But do you know what is even crazier? The fact he used Wikipedia to glean information about dishonesty and about legal cases around it. And he also had to go to Collins dictionary to define dishonesty," said Mr Spratt.

"This is a man with a legal background. His job is to investigate, to report the facts, then to decide whether there is something dishonest, but that was never the case.

"A schoolboy would have known there was never a case against me. I may have been cleared, but I was put through hell first."

Mr Bain admitted using Wikipedia but insisted it would be "misleading" to suggest he had used it to check the law.

"One of the issues that I had to consider during my investigation of the conduct of Jimmy Spratt MLA was the correct interpretation of the word 'honesty' in the Code of Conduct.

"As part of my initial research into that matter I perused a number of online sources including the Collins English Dictionary and Wikipedia.

"These led me to the relevant case law and in particular to the judgement in R v Gosh [1982] EWCA Crim 2. It is misleading to suggest that I relied in any way on Wikipedia 'to check the law'", Mr Bain said.

Mr Bain was appointed Assembly Commissioner for Standards in 2012 and is responsible for safeguarding standards. A trained lawyer, Mr Bain is still a member of the Bar in Scotland. He was a senior official within the Northern Ireland Prison Service before becoming Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland until 2010.

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