Complaints “not upheld” against Basil McCrea who “exercised poor judgement”

Last night’s interview between Mark Carruthers and Basil McCrea on The View made uncomfortable viewing. It should have been the Lagan Valley MLA’s opportunity to quickly draw a line under the last two years of allegations, accept that he could be more patient with staff and pivot the narrative back onto the electoral hopes for himself and his party.

Instead the pre-recorded interview turned into a sustained game of cat and mouse that left the NI21 leader – and sole candidate at the Assembly election – standing on the back foot.

committee-complaint-reportThe report on complaints against Basil McCrea published by NI Assembly’s Committee on Standards and Privileges was leaked by someone to was trailed in the local press over the last couple of days. A redacted copy along with links to appendices detailing Douglas Bain’s interviews, investigation and the original allegations were published online on Thursday.

None of the twelve complaints were upheld.

Although with regard to one complaint, the committee did express their belief “that the manner in which Mr McCrea occasionally treated his staff fell short of the standard it would encourage”.

Who doctored the photographs? That’s one question that went unasked in last night’s studio interview. Complaint 5 centred around the allegation that “during a visit to Canada in 2013 Mr McCrea took voyeuristic photographs of Miss Jacquelyn Neglia, which he stored on his office computer”.

The Commissioner determined that “none of these photographs was voyeuristic” but noted that “the three ‘photographs’ submitted by Mr McCallister in support of his allegation … have been heavily ‘doctored’ by a person unknown in a vain attempt to make them appear in some way improper“.

There was no probing on The View in this regard or indeed on whether or not the modifications went beyond a simple cropping.

That’s a significantly loose thread in this tapestry which has yet to be addressed. It has the potential to illuminate or qualify Basil’s assertion that there was a broader conspiracy to unseat him as an MLA.

The most serious allegation (complaint 9) centred around “inappropriate sexual misconduct” in a La Mon Hotel room. Having completed one interview which discussed a range of other complaints, former staff member Ashleigh Murray did not make herself available (due to ill health) for a further interview with the Commissioner Douglas Bain to discuss this one.

The Commissioner states that the only evidence in support of the complaints comes from Miss Murray herself in the form of her unsworn complaint document. The Commissioner states in his Report that less weight falls to be afforded to that evidence than to the sworn and tested evidence from other sources.

He states that even if he had accepted Miss Murray complaint document as a credible and reliable source of evidence he would not have been satisfied, in light of the conflicting sworn testimony, that her allegations had been established. Accordingly, the Commissioner was not satisfied that any breach of the Code occurred in respect of any aspect of this complaint.

A number of Murray’s descriptions of what happened in Basil McCrea’s La Mon hotel room were found to vary substantially. The pair were there ostensibly to drop off bags and laptops but stayed longer.

The View Mark Carruthers Basil McCreaOn The View, Mark Carruthers bravely wondered what they had been doing.

McCrea at first prevaricated by explaining that while he could have dodged parts of the investigation by explaining he wasn’t acting as an MLA when the alleged incidents occurred, he had not taken that course of action as he wanted to be transparent.

[Carruthers] “That means it is reasonable for people to ask what you did during those two hours in that room alone with Ashleigh Murray? …

You’ve said it’s very important that people know that you didn’t do anything wrong but then you don’t tell them what it was that you were doing.”

Asked again McCrea spoke vaguely about discussing party strategy, filling time and a rugby match. He reminded the audience about the unreliability of Ashleigh Murray’s evidence and referred to redacted issues that if revealed “would explain a lot”.

He said that any suggestion of wrongdoing should have been taken to the PSNI. Out of the blue Mark Carruther’s questioning then became very specific.

[Carruthers] “Did you have a consensual sexual relationship with Ashleigh Murray?”

A flustered Basil McCrea refused to answer the direct question with a direct answer: he had cooperated with the investigation and wasn’t going to accept a second interrogation in the studio.

The question lingered and Basil continued to refuse to answer the specific question on the basis it would simply lead to further specific questions and denials.

Some other reflections on the fallout of the report.

The length of time to produce the final report, the inability to interview John McCallister and the failure to complete the interview with  key complainant Ashleigh Murray all serve to damage the reputation of the Assembly’s complaints process.

While accepting the conclusion that the complaint was not upheld, the Committee was not happy with Douglas Bain’s “language”.

However, the Committee also wishes to put on record that it did not agree with some of the language used by the Commissioner in relation to his assessment of the credibility of witnesses.

In his report the Commissioner has outlined his suspicions in relation to Ashleigh Murray’s “unwillingness” to attend further interview. The Committee does not consider it necessary to question these reasons.

The Commissioner for Standards has been busy recently. But his approach does not always carry the “confidence” of the Committee. Three complaints “from those interviewed [for this investigation] by the Commissioner in relation to the manner in which the Commissioner conducted interviews and a perception of bias from the Commissioner” will now be the subject of “an independent review and report … on how aspects of this investigation were conducted”.

Three complaints “from those interviewed [for this investigation] by the Commissioner in relation to the manner in which the Commissioner conducted interviews and a perception of bias from the Commissioner” will now be the subject of “an independent review and report … on how aspects of this investigation were conducted”.

The Committee made up of MLAs from other parties were not happy with Basil McCrea’s “poor judgement” on the occasions he “allowed young women into his hotel”.

The Committee notes that this is the second occasion within the Commissioner’s report where Mr McCrea has stated that he allowed young women into his hotel rooms. The Committee believes that Mr McCrea has exercised poor judgement by placing himself in this position. Mr McCrea would be well advised to exercise caution in this area in the future.

And while understanding that “MLA offices at times can be a stressful place to work” the Committee took the view “that conflict and differences of opinion in his Office could have been managed better by Mr McCrea”.

Thousands of text messages between NI21 staff members and their friends and colleagues were recovered from NI21 phones and presented as evidence to the investigation. Were staff aware that they could expect personal content left on party equipment to be retained by the party?

The Committee “agreed that there were a number of papers that were irrelevant to the investigation, in possible contravention of the data protection act or which may have breached duties of confidentiality”. This issue has been referred the issue to the Information Commissioner for further consideration.

In a normal working environment, the majority of these complaints would have been dealt with through internal processes and if unresolved would end up at the door of the Labour Relations Agency.

The Committee have previously concluded that “the issue of Members’ treatment of their own staff … could be subject of employment tribunals” and under a new Code of Conduct “the Commissioner will not investigate those complaints which should properly be resolved in another statutory or official forum”.

, , ,

  • Zorin001

    The whole process has raised more questions than it’s answered.

  • On the fence!

    Carruthers gave a performance last night that even that battle hardened old veteran Noel Thompson would have been proud of.

    Didn’t know he had it in him, woof woof!

  • Cosmo

    thank you for pulling all this data together, Mr Baker. A lot to wade through to try to get at the ‘truth’, whether it is political sabotage/suicide, a woman scorned, or overweening ego and dangerously anti-social behaviour. There was real disappointment in NI when N21 with a new vista, just collapsed. The length of time for this Assembly enquiry seems absurd.
    But, Is it really in the public interest, other than sensationalism and titillation, for Caruthers to ask McCrea on TV ?
    [Carruthers] “Did you have a consensual sexual relationship with Ashleigh Murray?”

  • Granni Trixie

    Totally agree. There is a theory that puzzling matters remain in the public domain until new knowledge emerges to satisfy thirst for a resolution. Think of a case such as the corporals killings …and possibly this one?

  • Granni Trixie

    The question is – was he being fair/ethical or taking easy shots? I’m just not sure.

  • Not sure whether Pete or I am more defamed by you getting us mixed up!

  • the rich get richer

    The Timing of the Revelations were handy for some one trying to undermine NI21.

    Anyway ! A Somewhat interesting Unionist politician for a change.

    Some of the others may have interesting Fiscal goings on but so……………..

  • Zorin001

    My question would be was it an attempt to undermine the party or Basil specifically?

  • Granni Trixie

    We will have to await evidence to support the assertion that it is a political conspiracy. Can’t see a political party going to all this trouble – more likely if it is the case that it is some individual.

  • Granni Trixie

    What I think is being obscured by current revelations (or no revelations) is how badly two so called experienced politicans went about the business of leading NI21. As discussed previously on Slugger in the elections they immediately put candidates in constituencies all over NI,the context of their launch was a modeling agency (models with Tshirts an all) plus towards the end one of those leaders ‘announced’ to NI21 Exeuctive that they were to change their designation. Without discussion!

    That said, I know many admirable people who gravitated toards their “new fresh politcs” message and who are still puzzled by how it all went wrong.

    There is definately a book In it! A Satire?

  • Robin Keogh

    Carruthers aggressively bullied McCrea for no other reason but to deliver himself a nice sensationalist headline. The man has had the accusations against him shown to be unfounded. Let him get on with his life.

  • Ernekid

    McCrea’s political career is finished now isn’t it? He was elected under a UUP banner in 2011 and he did ok then but I’d say most of that vote was for his party and not for him personally. The man is damaged goods, I doubt that the people of the Lagan Valley constituency will reelect him. Instead of talking shite on twitter he needs to get out knocking on doors begging for forgiveness

  • babyface finlayson

    For some reason I am reminded of ‘The Producers’, with McCallister and McCrea instead of Bialystock and Bloom.
    “Here’s to failure”

  • notimetoshine

    It really wasn’t great was it? Like some people playing at politics more than anything else.

  • Pete

    Wow, Basil McCrea really was treated disgracefully over this.

    Hopefully he can relax a bit now and get his life back to normality.

  • the rich get richer

    I’d say both but hopefully we get to find out some more .

  • Zorin001

    I remember getting some N21 literature through the post, the “Don’t Open This” letter. It was some of the worst passive-aggressive sneering bit of communication I have read. Whoever their strategist was obviously felt that the “lower orders” could be treated with contempt.

  • I have the interview ‘taped’ to catch up with this weekend – but I would say that interviews designed to provide a entertaining stage-show as opposed to information for the viewer/ listener are a pet hate of mine.

    Will watch with interest.

  • chrisjones2

    Well it does offer an easy shot and a fascinating insight to life and values on the Hill

    When does an MLA (allegedly) groping a bum become a matter of conduct? If the Assembly is funding the trip yes, if it isn’t no.

  • Jane2

    It was shocking, and immaterial to the complaints and the findings.

  • Nevin
  • Granni Trixie

    One of my favourite movies! (Or was it on stage I saw it?)

  • Granni Trixie

    Leaving the case under discussion aside, if you don’t know what’s wrong with the conduct of groping you ought to.

  • babyface finlayson

    Only you can answer that!

  • Turgon

    Politically I have little time for Basil McCrea. At the time he stood to be leader of the UUP I blogged that that would be a disaster: many disagreed but I am afraid I have been proven wholly correct. In addition there have been allegations that he is difficult to get on with and such like.

    However, Carruthers behaviour here was pretty unacceptable. McCrea has been found to have little or no case to answer and he answered all that there was pretty comprehensively. The criticisms of him are fairly mild: Gordon Brown was famously bad tempered and Cameron has repeatedly been described as difficult at times.

    Much more relevant is that there seems to have been a dishonest and potentially criminal conspiracy directed against him.

    This interview was an exercise in smear, innuendo and dishonesty with questions of a “When did you stop beating your wife” typed nature.

    Even if McCrea did by some chance engage in some sort of consensual sexual relationship with an employee or employees it is of no relevance.

    There are a number of other known potential sex scandals about various people in NI politics which have not been made a big deal of and have not been scandals precisely because they had no relevance to politics. Whatever our difficulties in Northern Ireland and despite the religious makeup of many of the parties the simple fact is that a degree of decency about keeping private lives separate from public ones has usually been followed.

    McCrea was found innocent of any significant wrong doing. I hope he is defeated at the elections but I hope that is because he is a politician who’s views I oppose and I believe not the hardest working MLA. That and not Carruthers’s pretty tacky interview should be the cause of his downfall.

    As to “If you are explaining you are losing”. That is wholly irrelevant. None of us should have to explain and should not be asked about those sorts of aspects of our lives provided we are not being hypocritical or committing crimes. We certainly should not be asked such questions on a political television programme.

  • Cosmo

    it is a Brilliant fim, with every word of dialogue carefully chosen.
    And a critique to the American Dream.
    but I think this NI minor incident is a bit more on lines of Ides of March ( Clooney).

  • Turgon

    It has raised many questions including how on earth Carruthers was allowed to pursue that wholly inappropriate line of questioning.

    To be honest one of the questions it raises is whether Carruthers is an appropriate person to be conducting such political interviews.

    The likes of Jeremy Paxman or John Humphries could be much more brutal but would be such about appropriate matters not the sleaze and innuendo Carruthers tried to throw around like confetti.

  • Graham Parsons

    Agree with most of your post but wondering why you think you are wholly correct that he would have been a disaster for the UUP.

  • tmitch57

    The investigation ends up vindicating McCrea at least in personal terms but leaves MacAllister much diminished. But the main reason for NI21’s failure was its sudden inexplicable decision to redesignate from unionist to other on the eve of the election without any wide discussion on this within the party and without any necessity to have done so at the time. It spectacularly failed. Maybe Tina “I’ve done more for NI than Alliance ever did” will gain some humility and stay out of politics for some time. Maybe McCrea and MacAllister will just quietly fade into anonymity and resume their private lives. And maybe all those disillusioned NI21 supporters will take a second look at Alliance before the Assembly election.

  • Gaygael

    I broadly agree, however I do have a problem with someone having a sexual relationship with their employee or employees.
    When you are in a position of power and influence over someone, as employing someone is, its exceptionally poor judgement to have sexual relationships with that person or those people.
    A boss should never have a sexual relationship with their employee.
    That’s if he did. That’s exceptionally important.

  • chrisjones2

    I do but its not a matter of right and wrong. Its a matter of the MLA code of conduct..

    Leaving aside this case, basically as I read the Commissioner’s logic determination it all depends what an MLA is doing. If you are at an event as an MLA and funded by the Assembly and you improperly drop your trousers – potential breach of code. If it isn’t funded by the Assembly and you do it that a matter for you old chap.

    The stuff about “bullying” staff is bad though – if you have a secretary who is bad at her job try and train her and if that doesn’t work then I am afraid terminate the job – you dont rant and shout as it may just make it much worse and it is just plain fundamentally wrong

  • chrisjones2

    Why is it inappropriate. DId he? Is it not a matter of character?

  • the rich get richer

    I saw it in London and I thought it was actually a poor show.

    Different strokes for different folks I suppose.

    Maybe it was just a poor Production of it ! !

  • Granni Trixie

    But isn’t it about use or abuse of power in the case of employer-employee in whatever context.? And expectations about the moral behaviour of politicans which is probably higher than for non politicans. .

    I would worry if I were you Chris that you don’t seem to get it.

    Call me old fashioned if you will but I do give most MLas credit for understanding that the public expect their elected reps not act like predators (not sayng for one minute that I refer to present case,for I’m not).

    Also, it’s interesting that due to present case the spotlight now on questions regarding what is appropriate behaviour between the sexes working in the political arena. Has to be that under direct rule we did not have professional politicans.

  • chrisjones2

    I do totally get it…. I think its disgraceful. I think you misread the satirical tone of my earlier post

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gaygael, I entirely agree that such potential abuse of power is something any elector really needs to know about someone they may be voting for. Abusiveness is a habit easlily carried over into political decisions, where we need to be confidant that a representative is working primarily for us and our interests, rather than simply in their own interests. And I wonder where the actual line between public and private life may be firmly drawn in a situation such as the management of a communities interests where lapses in character in private life may signal potential disfunctionality on issues of public trust?

  • Thanks for that link – there’s been quite a sequence of stories in Bel Tel this week.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “You don’t need to be in a party to make a difference. Sticking on a rosette is a different thing to actually helping people.”


  • Granni Trixie

    omg! I do apologise.

  • Brendan Heading


    I understand your opposition to titillation/sensationalism and I agree with it, however there are a few details you are overlooking here.

    I don’t care what consenting adults get up to in their spare time. None of mine or anyone else’s business. I don’t need to read about it and I don’t want to hear about it.

    Where the serious problem comes up is when one of those consenting adults is paying the salary and is responsible for the career progression of the other consenting adult. Major organisations, including the civil service as well as any major public or private sector employer, have policies and procedures in place to deal with this. Best practice HR procedures require that the company/organisation be formally notified through the HR department that two employees are in a relationship (of any kind), and they need to be notified when it ends.

    The reasons for this become obvious. If two people are in a secret relationship, and one is involved in, for example, managing work allocation, monitoring performance, deciding on promotions, or determining salary increases, oversight is required to ensure those decisions are made on objective and justifiable basis in order to avoid accusations of discrimination.

    Likewise, if or when the relationship breaks down, organisations must be involved to ensure there is no acrimony which could make the workplace uncomfortable for either party, and no decisions or behaviour that impede the normal activities of the business.

    While I’m on the subject of such regulations it’s worth also referring to procedures about what goes on off the clock, or outside of working hours. Events organised by employees which are substantially attended by employees are qualified under “extension of the workplace”. Imagine employees getting drunk at a Christmas party and becoming involved or a brawl, or harassment of another kind. Even though they took place outside of work, they can have a serious impact on relationships within the office.

    The reason why these regulations are in place are to ensure that there is a productive working environment, that the business performs well, and that legal compliance is maintained. A workplace relationship which is not properly monitored by the employer could, ultimately, lead to the employer being taken to court for discrimination, bullying, harassment in the workplace and so on.

    These are why Carruther’s questions were relevant. They are also the reason why Bain’s report was, essentially, a whitewash.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m afraid you are both wrong.

    McCrea voluntarily appeared on that programme. I’m not a PR expert, but appearing before a camera to defend allegations, whether they took place or not, is a very bad move. McCrea should simply have issued a statement saying that he was glad to have been cleared and was moving on.

    The suggestion that the allegations were “unfounded” is actually not what becomes apparent to anyone reading the text of the report. Basil has made a huge mistake in doing a big public media blitz saying that he has been “exonerated” and that the complaints were entirely imaginary as this is simply inviting the media to examine the 900 page report in detail. The beginnings of this are apparent on the front page of this morning’s Sunday Life.

  • chrisjones2

    NP at all

  • chrisjones2

    “whether Carruthers is an appropriate person to be conducting such political interviews.”

    Aye …such impertinent questions!!!

  • Having read several hundred pages of Appendices to the Committee’s report I can now see exactly why the question was asked and repeated.

  • Cosmo

    thank you for ploughing through the paperwork. Did the question get asked by Bain ?

  • Pointis

    I am afraid you are wrong!

    Basil McCrea did not appear on the ‘view’ to defend allegations! McCrea was on the view to speak about being vindicated and how this had affected his life and career.

    Mr McCrea had already been vindicated by the Commisioner which formed the most impartial element of the investigation. There is no impartiality in having a committee of your political rivals criticise you!

    It would appear that Mr McCrea was a victim of concerted attempt to smear his name and the Commissioner’s report would seem to bear this out.

    Mr McCrea Made it clear in the interview with Mark Curruthers that Ashleigh Murray had never claimed in any complaint that he had sex with her in the hotel room and Curruthers would have known this “therefore the question had no relevance”!

    By claiming that the Commissioner’s report was a whitewash you obviously believe that Mr McCrea was guilty despite the lack of evidence to substantiate your beliefs. It would seem that there are many like you out there who would let their personal dislike of someone cloud any objectivity they may have.

    The line of questioning which Mark Curruthers took towards Mr McCrea was below contempt, I would suggest that had the victim of malicious allegations not been such a popular target he would have taken a much more objective, investigative approach to his questioning.

    Mark Curruthers certainly left an impression that he didn’t believe that McCrea was innocent if he wasn’t prepared to answer his invasive personal questions and in my view it was a cheap opportunistic shot!

  • Brendan Heading

    Basil McCrea did not appear on the ‘view’ to defend allegations!

    Yes he did. That may not be what he wanted to do, but that’s what he ended up doing, and if he knew anything about PR he would have refused to do it – he should have refused all media coverage.

    It would seem that there are many like you out there who would let their personal dislike of someone cloud any objectivity they may have.

    I have no personal dislike of McCrea. I feel kind of sorry for him and the situation he finds himself in.

    You are welcome to your belief that the report shows that there is no case to answer. I don’t think the report shows this.

  • Brendan Heading

    It is now clear that the re-designation decision was the first public salvo fired in a bitter personal dispute between the party’s leader and deputy leader that, up until that point, had been going on in private. At some point before this, relations between the two men had obviously broken down and they seem to both have been plotting to find ways to bring each other down. Nobody will ever know for sure who fired the first shot or why.

  • Granni Trixie

    Interesting that Cruthers did not seem to elicit evidence in questioning to support McCreas insistence that there was/is a political conspiracy against him.

    Welcome to the site, btw.

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes. It did.

  • Cosmo

    assume McCrea answered yes to Bain? and did this affect the Report’s conclusions ?

  • Pointis

    Hi Grannies Trixie,

    Thank you. Yes Mark Cruthers seemed totally uninterested in the actual story which was what had actually gone on and what were the motivations behind the situation.

  • Pointis

    Basil McCrea did not appear on the ‘view’ to defend allegations! = statement regarding his intentions.

    Yes he did. = your opinion to refute above statement.

    That may not be what he wanted to do, but that’s what he ended up doing. = your statement of using an outcome to prove an intention!

    Do you realise how illogical that position is?

    The boy broke his leg at the football match = the boy went to the match to have his leg broken!

  • Brendan Heading

    But I’m not attempting to “prove an intention” – the opposite. It’s self evident that Basil did not intend the interview to go in the direction that it did.