In an extraordinary broadcast interview, NI21 MLA Basil McCrea has ten times refused to say whether he had a consensual sexual relationship with a young party worker.
The Lagan Valley MLA – who on Thursday was cleared by Stormont’s Standards Commissioner of 12 allegations of misconduct, some of which were very serious – took part in a televised interview on BBC One Northern Ireland’s The View political programme that night.
One of the allegations rejected by commissioner Douglas Bain was by Mr McCrea’s former travelling personal assistant, Ashleigh Murray, who claimed that he had approached her while he was in a state of undress in his bedroom at the La Mon Hotel and had attempted to undress her before stopping when she objected.
Mr McCrea always denied that allegation and the commissioner categorically rejected it, along with the other complaints from a series of former party workers.
In the BBC interview, Mr McCrea again reiterated that there had been no “wrongdoing” or “criminal activity”.
But, when asked by veteran broadcaster Mark Carruthers whether he had a legal consensual sexual relationship with Ms Murray, the MLA steadfastly refused to answer the question. Mr Carruthers reacted with surprise as Mr McCrea repeatedly declined to give a clear answer. Twice, the MLA reached for a glass of water to drink as he faced questions which he said were “embarrassing”.
Mr McCrea faced similar questions from Mr Bain, and was also reluctant to answer them, Thursday’s report reveals. An addendum – which itself runs to more than 900 pages – to the report contains transcripts of several interviews between Mr Bain and Mr McCrea.
In one interview, the NI21 leader was asked: “Did you make any advances of a sexual nature towards Ms Murray?” He began by responding: “Ms Murray has made very specific allegations, and I absolutely deny them...”
Later in the interview, Mr Bain put it to the MLA that Ms Murray had said that no sexual intercourse had taken place at the point when she alleged Mr McCrea had acted improperly, but that she had claimed to another person that there had been intercourse on some occasion. Mr Bain asked: “Is there any truth in that?”
Mr McCrea responded that he was “keen to be helpful” but was “aware that these transcripts get read by political opponents and whatever”, before saying that Ms Murray’s allegations were contradictory.
Later in the interview, Mr Bain threatened to use his power to compel him to answer unless he had a reason which would justify not answering the question in court, after Mr McCrea refused to answer another question about a conversation relating to “private matters” (the issue itself has been blacked out from the public version of the report).
Mr McCrea said he was “reluctant to talk about this extensively because I am aware that this report will be subject to public scrutiny”.
Mr Bain sad: “I would have thought it was fairly simple to say ‘No, there was no such conversation’, or ‘yes, there was such a conversation’.
In the wake of Thursday’s report, Mr McCrea alleged that there has been a “conspiracy” against him by unspecified individuals.
• HOW THE INTERVIEW UNFOLDED
Mark Carruthers: “Did you have a consensual sexual relationship with Ashleigh Murray?”
Basil McCrea: “Have you not read the statements? Ashleigh Murray says repeatedly...”
MC: “I’m not asking you what Ashleigh Murray says. I’m asking you: Did you have a consensual sexual relationship with Ashleigh Murray?”
BMcC: “I refer you to the texts.”
MC: “Well, just answer the question.”
BMcC: “Why will you not let me answer it?” He then said that Ms Murray had made clear repeatedly “there is no sexual activity”. Mr Carruthers asked Mr McCrea why he was now relying on the words of someone who he had just described as an “unreliable witness”.
MC: “Never mind, why Ashleigh Murray did or didn’t say...I’m asking you a straightforward question and I would appreciate a straightforward answer. I’m asking you, Basil McCrea, did you have, at any stage, a consensual sexual relationship with Ashleigh Murray?”
BMcC: “So, the way that I have to respond to this...”
MC: “Is – yes or no.”
Mr McCrea again complained that he was being interrupted but went on to say: “These things are difficult and embarrassing...”
MC: “There’s nothing difficult, Mr McCrea. You either did have a sexual relationship with her or you didn’t. I’ll take a yes or I’ll take a no. It’s not complicated.”
BMcC: “Well, you know what, Mark, and I am going to finish this sentence. You are not going to interrupt me. I was fully open and compliant with the commissioner. I made all information available...I am not going through the same process again. I am not going to be investigated twice by you...I have been totally vindicated and if you think that I’m going to go down a second interrogation from you then you are wrong.”
MC: “So you are not prepared to answer that question? That’s basically it - viewers can draw their own conclusions, but you’re not prepared to answer that straightforward question? I mean, I can’t understand why you wont answer it. If you did not have a consensual sexual relationship...why would you not tell me?”
BMcC: “So, the reason for it, is because there are a series of allegations...and if you start to pick on one question, then you’ll say ‘well, what about this?’”