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Watchdog upholds UUP's complaint a poll commissioned by the DUP on eve of vote was misleading

By Adrian Rutherford

A bitter feud between rival unionists has reopened after the DUP rejected a UUP challenge to hold a by-election in Upper Bann.

It follows a fresh twist in the row over a controversial pre-election opinion poll published in a local newspaper.

It appeared to suggest Sinn Fein could take the seat if unionists opted for the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson and split the vote.

However, it later emerged the poll had been commissioned by the DUP and was out of date. The seat was eventually won by DUP candidate David Simpson.

A complaint by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt against the Portadown Times, which published the poll, has now been upheld by a Press watchdog.

The Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO) ruled the newspaper had misled readers.

Mr Nesbitt claimed the contentious poll had "skewed" the result in Upper Bann, and said the contest should now be re-run.

"Given the way the publication of an out-of-date survey appears to have skewed the result of an election to the House of Commons, I have no doubt David Simpson MP will do the decent thing and call a by-election so the people of Upper Bann can vote without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers," he said.

Rejecting the call, the DUP accused the UUP of "sour grapes on an industrial scale".

The poll had been published by the Portadown Times on May 1 - less than a week before the election.

It suggested that Mr Simpson was on course to take the seat, with 30.7% of the vote.

However, Catherine Seeley, the Sinn Fein candidate, was close behind with 28.1%. Ms Dobson, who was standing for the UUP, was third on 25%.

The accompanying article included comments from Mr Simpson suggesting that opting for Ms Dobson would split the unionist vote and risk the seat being taken by Sinn Fein.

Subsequently it emerged the poll was commissioned by the DUP and was six weeks old when published.

It was also inaccurate, as Sinn Fein finished third with 24.6% of the vote, with Ms Dobson taking 27.9%.

The UUP was also not given an opportunity to respond to Mr Simpson's comments in the article.

Mr Nesbitt added: "The poll was published a week before the general election, and it was clear to me, Jo-Anne Dobson and her canvass team that the publication provoked a dramatic mood swing on the doorstep.

"Where voters had previously been bright and enthusiastic about the prospect of Jo-Anne as their MP, the poll resulted in people indicating they could not risk voting Ulster Unionist out of fear.

"I wish to emphasise that the IPSO investigation makes clear the DUP did not disguise their commissioning of the poll.

"The Portadown Times... have been found guilty under the IPSO Code of Accuracy, which places a duty on them not to mislead their readers."

But Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson accused Mr Nesbitt of not accepting the verdict of the electorate.

"During the general election campaign in Upper Bann the UUP candidate arrogantly boasted that it was a 'UUP seat on loan to the DUP'," he said.

"The people had an opportunity to have their say, and it is clear that Mike Nesbitt and his UUP colleagues cannot accept the people's verdict.

"The people of Upper Bann chose an MP of substance, experience and a track record of delivery.

"The alternative was a UUP candidate who was hidden by her party and actively avoided taking a stance on major issues.

"Every candidate is entitled to disappointment following an election defeat. What we are witnessing from the Ulster Unionist Party, however, is sour grapes on an industrial scale.

"It's time to stop blaming the people and accept the result."

The Portadown Times declined to comment.

Mr Simpson got 2,264 votes more than Ms Dobson.

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