The Public Prosecution Service has decided not to prosecute DUP MLA Jim Wells for remarks on gay marriage after it was supplied with a fuller transcript of his comments.
In April he hit international headlines after a 30-second video clip emerged of him speaking at a hustings event in Downpatrick, where at one point he spoke about homosexual marriage and child abuse.
There was widespread anger about his remarks, with the brief video clip going viral across social media.
At the event he stated bluntly that he strongly opposed gay marriage, however scrutiny fell on his remarks about child abuse.
Police investigated the comments and he stood down from his office as Health Minister shortly afterwards.
However today the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said there would be no prosecution, after it had viewed a more comprehensive transcript of what he said.
A PPS spokeswoman said: “The Public Prosecution Service today confirms that a decision has been taken not to prosecute a 57-year-old man in relation to comments alleged to have been made at a pre-election event in Downpatrick on 23rd April 2015.
“Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence provided to the PPS by the PSNI, it has been decided that the case does not meet the Test for Prosecution. Potential offences were considered under the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, in particular an offence under Article 9 (stirring up hatred).
“Included in the evidence examined by prosecutors was a 30 second video clip which was widely circulated on social media after the event was staged in Downpatrick. The police also provided a longer transcript of a recording of the entirety of the man’s comments.
“On examining the available evidence for the incident reported, in particular the entirety of the transcript of the man’s comments, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that any offence was committed.”
The PSNI added today: “A file was prepared by police in relation to comments alleged to have been made at a pre-election event in Downpatrick on 23rd April 2015. The file was sent to the PPS who have today taken the decision not to prosecute.”
It also noted that a woman had been interviewed regarding the case.
“A 48 year old woman voluntarily attended Dungannon PSNI Station on Wednesday 7 October by pre-arranged appointment in relation to the suspicion of perverting the course of justice in connection with a complaint regarding the same incident,” A PSNI spokesman said. “A report will be forwarded to the PPS in due course.”
The DUP issued a statement this evening welcoming the decision not to prosecute Mr Wells, saying it should never have been considered.
“The DUP welcomes the announcement by the Public Prosecution Service that it is not to prosecute Jim Wells MLA in connection with an election hustings event in Downpatrick on 23rd April 2015,” the party said.
“These events over the recent past and the associated unfounded allegations have caused considerable distress to Jim and his family. There should never have been any question of Jim facing prosecution in relation to this matter and the announcement from the PPS is long overdue.”
According to the Down Recorder, the following is an actual transcript of what Mr Wells said: “All evidence throughout the world says the best way to raise children is in a loving, stable, married relationship; the facts show that, the facts show that certainly you don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused or neglected [uproar among audience] I say again, I say again, a child is far more likely to be abused or neglected in a non stable marriage situation, gay or straight.”
It is understood that the 30-second video clip of his comments on Twitter - which went viral across both social and mainstream media - stopped just short of the last three words he said: “...gay or straight”.
Pat Kelly, Director at McConnell Kelly Solicitors, Mr Wells’ legal adviser, said: “After a full investigation by the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service we are delighted to see that a decision has been made not to prosecute our client. “We believe this to be the correct decision and one which will enable our client to put this chapter of his life behind him and which will facilitate him to achieve closure in respect of this aspect of his affairs.”
On Friday night Mr Wells said: “This matter has been hanging over me for some time and so I am obviously delighted to have the air cleared.
“It was seized upon by opponents of myself and my party and used against us in an entirely unreasonable manner.
“There are many aspects of this incident, and the subsequent campaign, that continue to raise significant cause for concern and which merit further investigation.
“I look forward to the full facts being established. In the meantime, I reserve my rights to defend my reputation, and indeed my career, as and when the need arises.”
John Doherty of the Rainbow project described Mr Well’s original remarks as “unfounded and deeply hurtful” while accepting they were not a criminal act. “In this case, the PPS made the right decision, based on all the available evidence,” he said. “That should not detract from the contempt shown for LGBT families by Jim Wells, unbefitting a Minister responsible for the welfare of everyone in Northern Ireland.”
He said guidelines and legislation for same-sex parenting have not been progressed despite a judgment from the Court of Appeal and called on the Department and current Minister to “take immediate action to address this”.
While Jim Wells would welcome the PPS decision, he said, he should also remember the public outcry against his “outdated views” which demonstrates “the ever growing support for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland”.