N. Ireland Politics

NI21 row: Basil McCrea cleared of misconduct allegations but faces criticism for 'poor judgement'

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Media captionBasil McCrea said he was the victim of an "attempted political assassination" after being cleared of all complaints of misconduct

The Assembly Standards Commissioner has dismissed all complaints of misconduct brought against the NI21 party leader and Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea.

A new report has cleared Mr McCrea of claims of inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct towards his staff.

However, standards committee MLAs said the manner in which he occasionally treated his staff fell short of the standard they would encourage.

Mr McCrea claimed the allegations were a conspiracy to force him to resign.

'Doctored photographs'

He has faced serious scrutiny since May 2014 when his recently-formed party NI21 imploded spectacularly on the eve of a European election.

Mr McCrea fell out with N121 deputy leader John McCallister over whether the party should define itself as unionist.

But allegations also surfaced that Mr McCrea had engaged in bullying or sexual misconduct towards his staff.

The Stormont Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain has now investigated and dismissed 12 separate complaints against Mr McCrea.

The watchdog concluded that the Lagan Valley MLA was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

In relation to one claim that Mr McCrea took voyeuristic photographs, Mr Bain expresses his view that some photographs presented to him had been "heavily doctored by a person unknown".

The commissioner added that "none of these photographs was voyeuristic".

'Poor judgement'

In an accompanying report however, MLAs on Stormont's standards committee indicated their belief that Mr McCrea is not beyond criticism.

They said he exercised poor judgement in allowing young women into his hotel rooms and criticised how he spoke to his staff on occasions.

Mr McCrea believes the report has completely exonerated him, and he has called for sections which have been blacked out to be published in full.

He has described the claims of misconduct as a political conspiracy and claimed they were made in an attempt to derail his career.

'Bitter split'

The police have confirmed that a file has now been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service following a separate matter involving Mr McCallister, who brought forward some of the claims.

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Image caption John McCallister and Basil McCrea left the UUP to form NI21 in 2013

Mr McCrea described the complaints as "a complete and utter set-up".

"This was an attempted political assassination and people went to extraordinary lengths to try and implicate me," he said.

"I'm fortunate that because of the way I conduct business, I was able to prove the contrary to what people were alleging."

The complaints led to a bitter split in NI21, and Mr McCallister left the party a short time later.

He and Mr McCrea had quit the Ulster Unionist Party in 2013, setting up NI21 a few months later.

In a statement, Mr McCallister said: "I am thankful that this long and difficult process has now drawn to a conclusion.

"My desire throughout was that the allegations should be independently examined. It is my hope that the publication of this report will bring some sense of closure to all involved."

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