Stormont’s Standards watchdog has launched an investigation into DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt’s conduct, following revelations by the News Letter.
Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain has written to the veteran Assemblyman informing him that he is satisfied that ea recording revealed by this newspaper 10 days ago is “prima facie evidence” of alleged breaches of the MLA code of conduct.
A copy of the letter obtained by the News Letter states that Mr Bain will investigate whether the DUP MLA has acted honestly, whether he has cooperated with the Committee on Standards and Privileges and whether he has cooperated with himself as commissioner.
The probe relates to Mr Spratt’s infamous use of the word “nutters” last June to describe opponents of the Maze peace centre.
The South Belfast MLA initially denied having used the word. But a month ago Mr Bain published a report into the affair which showed that he had been told by Mr Spratt — and had accepted — that he had never denied having used the phrase “except the nutters”.
Ten days ago this newspaper revealed that we had evidence that, during an interview with the News Letter, Mr Spratt had explicitly denied using the phrase and threatened legal action if we reported that it had been used.
Mr Bain never heard a recording of our interview with Mr Spratt as the News Letter was never told that our report was being questioned.
Now, in light of the new evidence, Mr Bain has decided to initiate his own investigation, something which it is believed he has never before done without instruction from the MLAs on Stormont’s Standards Committee.
In his letter to Mr Spratt, Mr Bain said that he had “given careful consideration to new evidence” and decided to commence an inquiry into whether or not the MLA’s conduct had breached the code of conduct.
In the letter, Mr Bain said that two of the issues he would investigate are that, when the MLA was interviewed by him, Mr Spratt had said “the allegation that [Mr Spratt] had, during that telephone conversation with Mr McBride denied having used the word ‘nutter’ at that committee meeting was ‘lies’” and his statement to the Standards Committee that “in fact at no time did I deny the use of the words ‘except the nutters’”.
Mr Bain, who is a former Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, added: “I believe that my investigation is necessary to establish the truth.”