Robinson withdraws threat of BBC legal action

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson has appeared to withdraw his threat to sue the BBC.

In July, a Spotlight programme broadcast allegations from DUP councillor Jenny Palmer that DUP minister Nelson McCausland’s special adviser, Stephen Brimstone, had put pressure on her to change her vote at a key Housing Executive board meeting in favour of the firm Red Sky.

Mr Brimstone denied the allegation.

Spotlight made public part of an email which the First Minister sent to the BBC saying that if it broadcast the criticisms of him in the programme he had instructed his lawyer to begin proceedings against the BBC without further instructions.

In the News Letter’s pre-conference interview with Mr Robinson this week he dismissed some of the arguments in favour of libel law reform.

We also asked the First Minister if he had changed his mind about suing Spotlight.

Mr Robinson said: “I think since then we’ve had the announcement of the investigation being carried out by the DSD committee. The issues will be dealt with there.

“But I don’t need to [sue] because I now have a very clear opinion from the Attorney General which indicates that the BBC was completely wrong and vindicates my position.

“So once again the BBC has made allegations which the most senior legal mind in the Province is indicating are inaccurate.”

When asked why, if that is the case, he would not follow through on his threat to sue, Mr Robinson said: “Well, I suppose if I start the business of suing people who make inaccurate comments about me that would be a full-time, everyday job and I’m sure the News Letter wouldn’t want to encourage me to go down that road.”

In July Mr Robinson said he wasn’t sure whether to believe Councillor Palmer or Mr Brimstone.

Asked if he was any clearer about that now, the DUP leader replied: “There have been conversations ­– both with both of the parties and with each other.

“We are in the middle of an investigation by the DSD committee so I feel it’s best that I say nothing until either they agree to say something publicly or until the committee has finished its work.”

In 2010, Mr Robinson threatened to sue Spotlight over its revelations about his wife, Iris, but chose not to.

Last night the BBC said: “We remain satisfied that the BBC’s investigation into issues surrounding the awarding of contracts by the Housing Executive was thorough and accurate.

“Our findings were based on detailed evidence and research.

“We are not aware of any legal failings or inaccuracies in this programme and have had no formal representations from Executive ministers in this regard.”