PSNI quiz councillor over Ian Paisley petition complaint

Police have interviewed a TUV councillor over allegations he broke electoral law during the failed recall petition to oust DUP MP Ian Paisley.

Timothy Gaston voluntarily attended Ballymena PSNI station on Tuesday in relation to a Facebook message he posted during the six-week petition.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan is also to be quizzed by police over a video he posted to social media the day before the petition ended.

North Antrim MP Mr Paisley made three complaints to police over claims that electoral law was breached in Westminster’s first-ever recall petition, which was triggered after he was suspended from the House of Commons for failing to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

There are strict rules over what can be said or published when the petition is open.

The regulations state that it is a criminal offence to estimate or forecast the outcome, and also to publish information about who has signed the petition. Anyone who contravenes these could face a potential fine or a prison term of up to six months.

Last month, Northern Ireland’s chief electoral officer Virginia McVea received a complaint after Mr Gaston stated on Facebook that he had signed the recall petition. The Mid and East Antrim councillor subsequently amended the post.

Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Gaston said: “As a result of that post, disgraced MP Ian Paisley decided to waste police time by having them come after me.

“PSNI officers have far more pressing issues to be dealing at the minute and their resources would be better used elsewhere, rather than investigating Facebook comments,” he added.

The chief electoral officer also warned North Antrim MLA Mr McGuigan over a social media video in which he stated that the result of the petition was “on a knife edge”.

Mr McGuigan removed the video and said he did not believe there was anything in the post that predicted the outcome of the petition.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the SF representative has been contacted by police seeking an interview. He said that he had not yet been questioned, but was willing to attend a police station voluntarily.