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Upper Bann by-election call after key poll ruled misleading

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and Jo-Anne Dobson at the party's General Election manifesto launch. Picture by Mal McCann

UPPER Bann MP David Simpson has been challenged to a by-election after a press complaints body ruled that voters were misled over a poll credited with swinging the close vote.

The UUP said the results of the opinion poll, which appeared in the final edition of the Portadown Times before May's general election, suggested that a vote for its candidate Jo-Anne Dobson would split the pro-union vote and "risk" a Sinn Féin victory.

The Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO) has now found that while the paper stated that the poll was independent, it was in fact commissioned by the DUP.

The body also upheld an Ulster Unionist complaint that readers had not been informed it was six weeks old by the time of publication.

The UUP pointed out that the poll had also been "inaccurate, given Sinn Féin again finished third in the general election".

Party leader Mike Nesbitt said the results appeared a week before the selection and "it was clear to me, Jo-Anne Dobson and her canvass team that the publication provoked a dramatic mood swing on the doorstep".

"Where voters had previously been bright and enthusiastic about the prospect of Jo-Anne as their MP, the poll resulted in people indicating they could not risk voting Ulster Unionist out of fear."

Mrs Dobson went on to gain 13,166 votes to Mr Simpson's 15,430.

Mr Nesbitt claimed that voters had been "misled".

"Given the way the publication of an out-of-date survey appears to have skewed the result of an election to the House of Commons, I have no doubt David Simpson MP will do the decent thing and call a by-election so the people of Upper Bann can vote without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers," he said.

However, the call was dismissed by the DUP as "sour grapes on an industrial scale".

Upper Bann assembly member Sydney Anderson said it was "time to stop blaming the people and accept the result".

"During the general election campaign in Upper Bann the UUP candidate arrogantly boasted that it was a `UUP seat on loan to the DUP'.

"The people had an opportunity to have their say, and it is clear that Mike Nesbitt and his UUP colleagues cannot accept the people’s verdict.

"Every candidate is entitled to disappointment following an election defeat. What we are witnessing from the Ulster Unionist Party however is sour grapes on an industrial scale."

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