Northern Ireland Election 2016

DUP candidates in photo row were 'on a solo run'

Mervyn Storey, Robert Coulter and Philip Logan Image copyright DUP
Image caption DUP candidates Mervyn Storey and Philip Logan with former Ulster Unionist assembly member Robert Coulter

A DUP source in North Antrim says two of the party's candidates were "on a solo run" when they posed for a photograph with a former UUP MLA.

The picture shows Mervyn Storey and Philip Logan beside a smiling Robert Coulter.

Rev Coulter was an Ulster Unionist MLA from 1998 until 2011.

At the time, one DUP source said the former Presbyterian minister was "happy for it to be made public that he is voting DUP this year."

However another DUP source has contacted the BBC to say the photograph should never have been released.

They said "the Rev Coulter earned his well-deserved retirement in 2011. He decided to step aside and certainly we would believe he should have been allowed to retire without being drawn into a political dispute."

The source added it looked like "a desperate approach" and was "probably unwise."

Earlier, when the BBC contacted Mr Coulter he said he would be voting down the line for all unionist candidates.

He was not was not prepared to say which candidate he would be putting first on the grounds that it is a secret ballot. He added that he is friendly with both the UUP and DUP candidates.

But Robin Swann, who succeeded him as the Ulster Unionist MLA for the area claimed the DUP's use of their photograph was "student union politics designed to do the UUP maximum damage ahead of the election".

He and his UUP running mate Andrew Wright also have a photograph of Robert Coulter with them.

Image copyright UUP
Image caption Mr Coulter was also pictured with Ulster Unionists Andrew Wright and Robin Swann

It has echoes of an incident before last year's Westminster election involving former Ulster Unionist MP Martin Smyth.

The DUP's South Belfast candidate Jonathan Bell tweeted a picture with the former MP saying he had his support and that he had signed his nomination papers.

But Mr Smyth later accused the DUP man of "misleading" him saying he had already pledged his support to the Ulster Unionist candidate Rodney McCune.

He said he only signed Mr Bell's nomination papers because he was told he could also sign Mr McCune's papers.

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