McCrea cleared by commissioner but committee voices concerns

Basil McCrea of NI21 arriving at the European election count in 2014. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Basil McCrea of NI21 arriving at the European election count in 2014. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

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Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea has confirmed he will be seeking re-election, this after Stormont’s Standards Commissionercleared him of misconduct.

Commissioner, Douglas Bain, found NI21 leader Mr McCrea did not breach the MLA code of conduct in respect of 12 allegations against him, some involving claims of serious sexual misconduct.

However, the Assembly’s Standards Committee has expressed reservations about Mr McCrea’s conduct and has asked the Information Commissioner to investigate the revelation that he held over 3,000 text messages between former employees.

Mr McCrea told the commissioner many of the texts between former employees Ashleigh Murray and Jacqueline Neglia – two of those who made allegations against him – were “of an intimate and very personal nature”.

He argued – and the commissioner accepted – that the texts substantiated his version of events, but the committee was concerned by his access to the text messages, saying it had “concerns that Miss Neglia’s and possibly others’ personal information may have been processed unfairly”.

“It has not been made aware if Mr McCrea had a policy in relation to retaining of work and personal messages for his employees. The committee has therefore agreed that the texts should not be published in this report and has referred the issue to the Information Commissioner for further consideration.”

The report also reveals that less than three weeks after Ms Murray left Mr McCrea’s employ, she advised Miss Neglia to “dig up the dirt” on him.

That emerged from one of thousands of text messages held by Mr McCrea but its context cannot be examined as the messages have been removed from the report under data protection law – much to Mr McCrea’s annoyance.

Standards Commmittee Chairman and Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan said the code of conduct “strictly applied” had not been breached, but said Mr McCrea should “reflect upon” the committee’s other concerns about his conduct.

The 12 formal complaints against Mr McCrea came from Ms Murray, former NI21 deputy leader John McCallister and Alan Paterson, a former Assembly clerk who had become NI21’s secretary.

This week’s vast report – one appendix alone runs to almost 1,000 pages – came a year and a half after the complaints were made.

The report said: “The committee was concerned ... about the way that Mr McCrea apparently spoke to and treated his staff.”

The committee also noted Mr McCrea had stated in relation to two separate allegations against him that he had, in the words of the committee, “allowed young women into his hotel rooms”.

The committee said it “believes that Mr McCrea has exercised poor judgment by placing himself in this position. Mr McCrea would be well advised to exercise caution in this area in the future.”

Mr McCallister had alleged Mr McCrea took actions which left Ms Murray feeling “humiliated and worthless”.He claimed: “He would also threaten her by suggesting that if she ever spoke to anyone about her treatment he would ‘destroy’ her credibility and that no one would believe her because she is ‘damaged’.”

He added: “I feel it is important to relate my own personal experience ... it becomes blatantly apparent that there is a distinct pattern of young, impressionable females passing through his employment ... in hindsight I would draw attention to the ‘type’ of person that he frequently engages and how quickly those individuals either move on of their own accord or are marginalised by Mr McCrea when the nature of the relationship changes.”

Mr McCallister said Ms Neglia, who now lives in Canada, had developed a “terror of Mr McCrea” and that “her experience during her employment with Mr McCrea led her to tell me she would never set foot in Northern Ireland again”.

But Mr Bain was scathing about Ms Neglia’s evidence, saying she “cannot have made an innocent mistake when she told me on oath that Mr McCrea had thrown a baseball at her”. He said she must have known the evidence was “false” and he was minded to report her to the PSNI for perjury only she now lived abroad.

The report also contains a claim from another former NI21 employee, Fiona McAteer, who alleged she was the first into the office in the morning and on one occasion found Mr McCrea’s underwear “in the middle of the floor” and on another found the same garment “in his car”.

Ms McAteer alleged Mr McCrea’s relationship with Ms Murray had been “unhealthy”. She said she “never saw anything sexual but there was a lingering touch on her arm, on chairs, he sat very close and touched her arm, made her uncomfortable”.

In a brief statement Mr McCallister said: “I am thankful this long and difficult process has now drawn to a conclusion. My desire throughout was that the allegations should be independently examined.

“It is my hope that the publication of this report will bring some sense of closure to all involved.”