BBC locks up loyalist
Whilst motorists around Belfast pulled their hair out last night stuck in the gridlock sparked by a series of security alerts, a leading loyalist found himself temporarily interned without trial - inside the BBC.
To explain - I was just starting to make my way home when I got a call from the "Hearts and Minds" team, concerned that the disruption might prevent their guests, the SDLP Minister Alex Attwood and the new PUP leader Brian Ervine, making it to studio in time for their 7.30 pm programme.
I agreed to fight my way back through the bumper to bumper traffic in order to wait as a standby guest for Noel Thompson.
Around 7 pm Brian Ervine arrived, but I hung on in make-up waiting for Alex Attwood to turn up. Five minutes before the programme was due to go on air the SDLP minister emerged from the storm outside and everyone relaxed.
"Hearts" had been switching their running order around to cope with the late arrivals and in make up we thought we had a good ten minutes to spare whilst Julia Paul's film was broadcast. So the PUP leader enquired if he could use the facilities, and I showed him around to the closest gents, explaining that it is equipped with a slow acting motion sensitive light so not to worry if for a few seconds he appeared to be plunged into darkness.
I made my way back into make up when the studio floor manager ran in to announce that since both guests had arrived the show would begin with their debate. Would they please take their places beside Noel immediately?
I headed back towards the gents to make sure Brian knew which way to go, only to hear an ominous click click noise. The cubicle door wouldn't open, the seconds were ticking away and the PUP leader was locked in.
Sadly it's not the kind of loo door which responds to a 10 pence piece - instead we really needed a skeleton key. We sent an SOS to security, and the make up assistant tried any keys ready to hand, but to no avail.
With the opening credits running (and a studio director, on her last day before starting pregnancy leave, worrying that her baby might arrive early) the time had come for decisive action. After telling the PUP leader to stand back, our floor manager aimed a couple of hefty kicks at the door.
We heard a crack, but still it wouldn't budge. Then Brian tried the lock again from his side and, to everyone's relief, it turned. He was rushed into the studio and had to have his microphone fitted whilst Alex Attwood was already answering the first couple of questions. The debate - about whether government money should be channelled to initiatives which Mr Ervine believes might assist loyalist paramilitaries in changing their ways - went on. The PUP leader looked a little flushed, but otherwise betrayed no sign of his inconvenience in the BBC's convenience.
We have reported the faulty lock to the relevant authorities. I'd like to take this opportunity to refute the tongue in cheek rumour propagated by Brian Ervine after the show that in confining him in a darkened cell like room I was operating to an MI5 agenda.