Stormont’s Standards Commissioner has found that Basil McCrea did not breach the MLA code of conduct in relation to 12 allegations against the NI21 leader, some of which related to claims of serious sexual misconduct.
However, the Assembly’s Standards Committee has expressed a series of reservations about Mr McCrea’s conduct and has also asked the Information Commissioner to investigate the revelation that he held over 3,000 text messages between former employees.
Mr McCrea told the commissioner that many of the texts between former employees Ashleigh Murray and Jacqueline Neglia – two of those who made allegations against him – were “of an intimate and very personal nature”.
Mr McCrea argued – and the commissioner accepted – that the texts substantiated his version of events.
But the committee was concerned by his access to the text messages, saying that it had “concerns that Miss Neglia’s and possibly others’ personal information may have been processed unfairly”.
“It has not been made aware if Mr McCrea had a policy in relation to retaining of work and personal messages for his employees. The committee has therefore agreed that the texts should not be published in this report and has referred the issue to the Information Commissioner for further consideration.”
The report also contains the revelation that less than three weeks after Ms Murray left Mr McCrea’s employment she advised Miss Neglia to “dig up the dirt” on Mr McCrea.
That emerged from one of the thousands of text messages held by Mr McCrea but its context cannot be examined as the text messages have been removed from the report under data protection law – much to Mr McCrea’s annoyance.
DUP MLA Paul Givan, who is chairman of the Standards Committee, said that the code of conduct “strictly applied” has not been breached, but said Mr McCrea should “reflect upon” the committee’s other concerns about his conduct.
The 12 formal complaints against the Lagan Valley MLA came from Ms Murray, former NI21 deputy leader John McCallister and Alan Paterson, a former Assembly clerk who had become NI21’s secretary.
Yesterday’s vast report – one of its appendices alone runs to almost 1,000 pages – comes a year and a half after the complaints were made.
The report said: “The committee was concerned ... about the way that Mr McCrea apparently spoke to and treated his staff.”
The committee also noted that Mr McCrea had stated in relation to two separate allegations against him that he had, in the words of the committee, “allowed young women into his hotel rooms”.
The committee said it “believes that Mr McCrea has exercised poor judgment by placing himself in this position. Mr McCrea would be well advised to exercise caution in this area in the future.”
Mr McCallister had alleged that Mr McCrea took actions which left Ms Murray feeling “humiliated and worthless”.
He claimed: “He would also threaten her by suggesting that if she ever spoke to anyone about her treatment he would ‘destroy’ her credibility and that no one would believe her because she is ‘damaged’.”
Mr McCallister added: “I feel it is important to relate my own personal experience ... it becomes blatantly apparent that there is a distinct pattern of young, impressionable females passing through his employment ... in hindsight I would draw attention to the ‘type’ of person that he frequently engages and how quickly those individuals either move on of their own accord or are marginalised by Mr McCrea when the nature of the relationship changes.”
Mr McCallister said that Ms Neglia had developed a “terror of Mr McCrea” and that “her experience during her employment with Mr McCrea led her to tell me she would never set foot in Northern Ireland again”. Ms Neglia now lives in Canada.
But Mr Bain was scathing about Ms Neglia’s evidence, stating that she “cannot have made an innocent mistake when she told me on oath that Mr McCrea had thrown a baseball at her”.
He said that she must have known that the evidence was “false” and that he was minded to report her to the PSNI for perjury only that she now lives abroad.
The report also contains a bizarre claim from another former NI21 employee, Fiona McAteer, who alleged that she was the first into the office in the morning and that on one occasion she found Mr McCrea’s underwear “in the middle of the floor” and on another occasion found the same garment “in his car”.
Ms McAteer alleged that Mr McCrea’s relationship with Ms Murray had been “unhealthy”. She said she “never saw anything sexual but there was a lingering touch on her arm, on chairs, he sat very close and touched her arm, made her uncomfortable”.
In a brief 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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