John McCallister took me seriously, says Basil McCrea’s accuser, Ashleigh Murray

Ashleigh Murray speaking to the BBC
Ashleigh Murray speaking to the BBC

The woman making allegations of sexual misconduct against NI21 leader Basil McCrea last night came forward to speak publicly in a broadcast interview.

Ashleigh Murray, 23, from Belfast, told the BBC that her allegations related to a period last year when she worked for the party, first on a voluntary basis and then as a member of staff.

Ms Murray, who was Mr McCrea’s assistant and then worked in his constituency office in Lisburn, spoke in person to the News Letter last week.

At Ms Murray’s request, a second meeting was arranged with NI21 deputy leader John McCallister at which she gave considerable detail about what was alleged.

Mr McCallister invited her to speak in confidence to Carecall, the independent company he brought in to investigate wider rumours about Mr McCrea’s conduct,which satisfied Ms Murray that her claims were being taken seriously.

On Thursday, after the party’s sudden decision to change its Stormont designation from unionist to ‘other’, Ms Murray gave the News Letter an on-the-record statement of allegations which we then put to Mr McCrea at the earliest opportunity that evening.

During a lengthy meeting at the News Letter offices, Mr McCrea completely rejected the allegations, doing so both in person, and through his solicitor.

A letter from Mr McCrea’s solicitor, on the allegations, said they were “wholly untrue” and added: “In the event that any of these allegations are published, proceedings will be brought against you without further notice for libel.”

Last night Ms Murray told the News Letter that she was pleased at how Mr McCallister had dealt with the complaint.

“He dealt with it as a true politician should,” she said.

Yesterday afternoon, Ms Murray recorded an interview with the BBC in which she said she did not contact the police as she thought she would not be believed.

Ms Murray said: “Who’s going to believe me, someone from my background?”

She said she started working for NI21 in the spring of last year and left in November.

The former party worker said she did not raise the allegations with senior party officials until earlier this month.

When asked why she continued to go to work after the alleged misconduct took place, she said: “I needed the work.

“I left school with no qualifications.

“He is a respected politician with a lot of power behind him.”

Mr McCrea spoke again yesterday morning to deny any misconduct.

In two interviews on BBC Radio Ulster, Mr McCrea made clear that he did not believe he had done anything wrong.

“At first reading of them, I can say that I deny them, so on that basis I’m not going any further on the description,” he said.

“That’s obviously an issue that I’m going to have to deal with and one of the things I’m looking at is how best to deal with the issues.”

Mr McCrea said that he would respond if anyone brought complaints to his attention and would cooperate fully with the investigation set up by Mr McCallister.

NI21’s former chairwoman, Tina McKenzie, who quit the party executive on Thursday night, spoke to the BBC yesterday about what she knew of the allegations prior to recent days.

She said: “As to a specific complaint, and the nature of the complaint, I haven’t seen it.”

Ms McKenzie added that the executive had sent an email to Mr McCallister asking for more details of Ms Murray’s complaint prior to the events of the last 48 hours.

When asked if she had been part of a cover-up, Ms McKenzie said that was “absolutely not true” and that there were minutes of executive meetings which would substantiate her version of events.

Ms McKenzie confirmed that the party took legal advice over the allegations but that the advice stated that a formal complaint was needed for the issues to be investigated.

When asked if she still had confidence in Mr McCrea, Ms McKenzie said: “I have to say I’m seriously burned from politics and I’m very hurt and shocked and devastated.

“I think Basil needs to have a fair process. I think that’s important.

“I’m just devastated that all the work up to now has been ruined.”