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Mike Nesbitt encounter was 'all a joke' says west Belfast grandmother

Marie Hyland pictured holding the collar of Mike Nesbitt during their encounter at a Belfast hotel last month 
Gareth McKeown

A WEST Belfast great-grandmother pictured holding Mike Nesbitt by the collar as he lay face down in a hotel lobby has revealed their encounter was nothing more than "horseplay".

Bizarre pictures emerged last week showing the former Ulster Unionist leader lying apparently flat out inside the Stormont Hotel. Initial reports suggested a row took place between Mr Nesbitt and two wedding guests.

After the images appeared in The Sun last week the UUP politician would only say that he had gone to the hotel with three friends and “things happened", but declined to elaborate.

However it has now emerged that the lady in the picture is 73 year-old Falls Road pensioner Marie Hyland - the grandmother of boxer Paul Hyland.

Speaking to the Irish News yesterday a visibly shaken Mrs Hyland, who is well known and respected on the Falls Road, said she was on the verge of a "nervous breakdown" after becoming the centre of a news story and said: "It was all a joke".

Earlier she told Sunday Life that their encounter was "horseplay".

"It was all a joke, horesplay that has been blown out of proportion. It was a misunderstanding.

"I was at a wedding in the hotel and Mike Nesbitt was there. He had been out playing golf with his friends.

"There was a bit of banter and he lay down on the floor. I got on top of him, we were messing around, and his friend was taking photos. His friend was actually telling us how to pose. I didn't punch him, in fact I never laid a finger on him."

"It was all a joke, because he is a unionist and I'm from the Falls Road," she added.

"Mike Nesbitt was nothing but friendly to me. I'd have a drink with him any time."

Mr Nesbitt issued a statement on the back of the development describing events at the Stormont on April 29 as "a bit of fun, banter and play-acting" where "nothing untoward took place".

"I wish to clarify that my engagement with the wedding party was only a bit of fun, and has been blown totally out of context," Mr Nesbitt said.

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