Northern Ireland

NI21 row: Call for McCrea to step aside after alleged sex victim goes public

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Media captionAshleigh Murray has made allegations against NI21 leader Basil McCrea

The deputy leader of NI21 has called for his party leader to step aside while allegations of sexual impropriety against a young woman are investigated.

Ashleigh Murray, 23, a former party worker, told the BBC the alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour occurred last year.

Mr McCrea has denied the claims that emerged on polling day.

However, deputy leader John McCallister said, now that the alleged victim has spoken out, Mr McCrea could not stay.

"In light of the fact that a young woman has now publicly come forward regarding the allegations against Basil McCrea, I am now compelled to ask him to immediately step aside from the leadership of NI21 for the duration of the investigation," he said in a statement.

"It would be impossible for the leader of any political party to remain in post when confronted with an investigation into such serious allegations."

The woman at the centre of allegations, Ashleigh Murray, said she did not contact the police as she thought she would not be believed.

In an interview with the BBC, she said: "Who's going to believe me, someone from my background?"

She said she started working for NI21 in the spring of last year and left in November.

She said she did not raise the allegations with senior party officials until earlier this month.

Asked why she continued to go to work after the alleged misconduct took place, she said: "I needed the work, I left work with no qualifications.

"He is a respected politician with a lot of power behind him."

Ms Murray was speaking amid turmoil within the party and a very public falling-out between Mr McCrea and deputy leader John McCallister.

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Media captionTina McKenzie spoke to the BBC's Gareth Gordon at Belfast City Hall. She says she feels "let down" by what has happened.

Earlier this week, the party re-designated as 'other' rather than 'unionist', however, Mr McCallister alleged it was an attempt to derail an investigation he instigated over the allegations.

Meanwhile, the party's European election candidate Tina McKenzie has said it will be difficult for Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister to remain as leader and deputy leader.

Ms McKenzie resigned from the party executive on Thursday night and said she was "absolutely devastated" by the events.

"I have to say I'm seriously burned from politics and I'm very hurt and shocked and devastated," she said.

"I think Basil needs to have a fair process. I think that's important.

"I'm just devastated that all the work up to now has been ruined."

Earlier, Mr McCrea told BBC Radio's Good Morning Ulster that he had done nothing wrong.

He said the allegations were only brought to his attention the previous day.

Image caption NI21 party leader Basil McCrea and deputy leader John McCallister

"At first reading of them, I can say that I deny them, so on that basis I'm not going any further on the description," he said.

"That's obviously an issue that I'm going to have to deal with and one of the things I'm looking at is how best to deal with the issues."

NI21 was set up by MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister, after they quit the Ulster Unionist Party in 2013.

On Wednesday, Mr McCallister described the party's decision to drop its unionist designation as "crazy" and "dysfunctional".

Mr McCallister apologised to NI21's supporters for the current turmoil.

Mr McCrea has said he would respond if anyone brought any complaints to his attention.

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