Northern Ireland

Lord Laird apologises over Christopher Knight comments

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTara Mills spoke to Lord Laird for BBC Newsline

Ulster Unionist peer, Lord Laird, has apologised for describing sexual allegations against a businessman who bought the Belfast Giants ice hockey team, as a "minor misdemeanour".

Christopher Knight pleaded no contest to the charges in a US court.

Adjudication was withheld, and he was placed on the state of Florida's sex offenders' register.

Earlier, the UUP issued a statement saying party leader Mike Nesbitt had spoken to Lord Laird about the issue.

It said both Lord Laird and the party leader "view any sexual activity, or alleged sexual activity with a minor, to be an extremely serious issue, no matter in which jurisdiction it might occur.

"It is a matter of regret that the language used in a BBC interview gave rise to a different impression."

The UUP peer said the language he had used was wrong.

I'm sorry about this, it has become quite clear to me that what I was using was incorrect language in the heat of an interview," he said.

"I probably have given offence to a lot of people and I do apologise. I have no-one else to blame other than myself.

"I was doing my best to bring inward investment into Northern Ireland and that's just the facts of life - I got it wrong and I acknowledge that.

"I don't know what will happen with the jobs now, I suspect they will not come to Northern Ireland, but it is a great pity.

"I bear responsibility for an incorrect choice of words."

Christopher Knight pleaded no contest to charges of lewd/lascivious battery, sex with victim 12-15 years old, dating from 2003.

Adjudication was withheld and he was placed on the state of Florida's sex offenders' register.

When the Belfast Giants and the company that runs the Odyssey Arena found out, they scuppered Mr Knight's takeover of the team.

In a BBC Newsline interview broadcast on Thursday, Lord Laird said he could not understand what the problem was.

He told the BBC: "It's not for me to do due diligence into someone with a lot of money or claiming to have a lot of money.

'Minor misdemeanour'

"That's not my issue - OK? He is very upfront into what happened to him in Florida and that seemed perfectly reasonable to me that he should go around telling people about it.

"In Northern Ireland, society requires me to work with people who have terrorist convictions and who are now in government. So we're worried about some minor misdemeanour in Florida? I just can't get around in my mind what the problem is."

Lord Laird also believed his association with Mr Knight could have benefited Northern Ireland because Mr Knight had talked of creating a telecommunications business employing 1,500 people.

The peer also told the BBC he had seen a letter from the Metropolitan Police stating Mr Knight was of no interest to them and did not have to be placed on the UK sex register because his five year probation period ended in 2008.

Mr Knight has claimed the register was not the real reason he lost control of the Belfast Giants and has threatened to pursue the matter in the courts.

More on this story