Three senior members of NI21 last night quit the party executive two hours after the News Letter put allegations of sexual misconduct to party leader Basil McCrea.
Mr McCrea strenuously denied the allegations, threatened to sue if they are made public, and insisted that the departure of three party executive members was because of the “stresses” caused by the issue, “not because of any specific allegations”.
In a half-hour period from 9.27pm last night, the party imploded in spectacular fashion, with three members of its executive resigning – one quitting the party entirely – prior to the close of polls at 10pm.
Astonishingly, one of those to quit the executive was European and Belfast council candidate Tina McKenzie, who had been the party chair.
Last night Mr McCrea issued a statement to the party membership denying a suggestion by NI21 deputy leader John McCallister that he had attempted to, in Mr McCrea’s words, “derail an investigation into inappropriate sexual activity by me”.
The News Letter can reveal that the allegations are being made by a former female party worker who yesterday gave a statement to this newspaper outlining what she claims took place.
The woman making the allegations has given us a solicitor’s letter attesting that she confirms “unequivocally that the said contents [of her statement] are factually correct and based on matters within her own personal knowledge”.
According to the former party worker, the alleged sexual misconduct took place over a period of several months last year.
The allegations, which the News Letter was only able to put to Mr McCrea at tea-time yesterday, were vehemently rejected by the prominent politician.
The Lagan Valley MLA said they were “wholly untrue” and has threatened to sue us if we make public the contents of the former party worker’s statement.
In a letter to the News Letter late last night, Mr McCrea’s solicitor said: “In the event that any of these allegations are published, proceedings will be brought against you without further notice for libel.”
Last night Mr McCallister made clear that he would not be leaving the party until the “mess” had been resolved.
Making clear his deep unhappiness at the conduct of fellow executive members who he feels did not sufficiently support his efforts to have the allegations independently investigated, Mr McCallister said he was unhappy that so many were leaving the executive as they believed the allegations were about to become public.
“I had a significant lack of support from these people in my attempts to address this through setting up an independent process.
“Then, suddenly when things get difficult, they all walk away.
“I will not walk away and leave staff feeling demoralised and abandoned. I believe that everyone should cooperate fully with the investigation.”
Referring to where the party now finds itself, Mr McCallister said: “We’re not quite clear who is the executive any more.
“But I will be staying and sorting out this mess.”