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Northern Ireland health minister avoids prosecution over same sex couples comments

David Young, Press Association

Published 17/10/2015 | 10:57

Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells
Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells

A FORMER Stormont health minister will not face prosecution over comments he made about same sex couples at a general election hustings event.

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Democratic Unionist Jim Wells faced intense criticism after a video clip from the event in Co Down emerged in which he made remarks referencing both same sex couples and child abuse.

He was accused of suggesting that children brought up by same sex couples were at more risk of abuse.

While the minister apologised he later insisted his comments had been taken out of context.

Days after the hustings in Downpatrick, Mr Wells was involved in a doorstep confrontation with a same-sex couple about his remarks while out canvassing. It was an altercation that ultimately forced his resignation.

The DUP Assembly member's hustings remarks were investigated by police after public complaints were made about a potential hate crime.

Prosecutors have now taken the decision not to charge Mr Wells after reviewing the video clip and a fuller transcript of the Downpatrick event.

It is understood prosecutors were satisfied that in exchanges not captured in the video clip, Mr Wells made clear he was arguing that children were more at risk of abuse in "unstable" relationships, be they heterosexual or same sex.

A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said: "The Public Prosecution Service today confirms that a decision has been taken not to prosecute a 57-year-old man in relation to comments alleged to have been made at a pre-election event in Downpatrick on April 23 2015.

"Following a careful consideration of all the available evidence provided to the PPS by the PSNI, it has been decided that the case does not meet the test for prosecution.

"Potential offences were considered under the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, in particular an offence under Article 9 (stirring up hatred).

"Included in the evidence examined by prosecutors was a 30 second video clip which was widely circulated on social media after the event was staged in Downpatrick. The police also provided a longer transcript of a recording of the entirety of the man's comments.

"On examining the available evidence for the incident reported, in particular the entirety of the transcript of the man's comments, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that any offence was committed."

A PSNI spokeswoman added: "A file was prepared by police in relation to comments alleged to have been made at a pre-election event in Downpatrick on April 23 2015. The file was sent to the PPS who have today taken the decision not to prosecute."

In a separate investigation, police last week interviewed a 48-year-old woman on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to complaints made about Mr Wells' remarks at the hustings event.

Detectives have passed a file on the woman to the PPS for consideration.

The episode in Downpatrick unfolded at a time when Mr Wells' wife was seriously ill in hospital having suffered two strokes.

The DUP has welcomed the PPS decision. A party spokesman said: "The DUP welcomes the announcement by the Public Prosecution Service that it is not to prosecute Jim Wells MLA in connection with an election hustings event in Downpatrick on 23rd April 2015.

"These events over the recent past and the associated unfounded allegations have caused considerable distress to Jim and his family.

"There should never have been any question of Jim facing prosecution in relation to this matter and the announcement from the PPS is long overdue. "

Mr Wells said he had been "vindicated" by the PPS decision not to proceed with any further action.

"This matter has been hanging over me for some time and so I am obviously delighted to have the air cleared," he said.

"It was seized upon by opponents of myself and my party and used against us in an entirely unreasonable manner.

"There are many aspects of this incident, and the subsequent campaign, that continue to raise significant cause for concern and which merit further investigation.

"I look forward to the full facts being established. In the meantime, I reserve my rights to defend my reputation, and indeed my career, as and when the need arises."

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