Selfie in front of ice cream van at bonfire offered as proof Ian Paisley was not in Sri Lanka on July 11
REMARKABLE correspondence between Ian Paisley and a watchdog show the North Antrim MP disputing the costs, dates and purpose of Sri Lanka trips.
Mr Paisley revises the estimated price of the visits upwards and criticises the Daily Telegraph which broke the story last year.
He also is adamant he would not have been overseas on July 11 – offering an undated ‘selfie’ as proof.
The Commons Standards Committee’s report, published yesterday, contains 24 letters.
They attempt to establish the costs, which the Daily Telegraph claimed were £100,000 – a claim Mr Paisley denies.
There are 55 references to the newspaper.
In his initial response, Mr Paisley told then commissioner Kathryn Hudson he believed the cost was “a fifth of that amount”.
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While he did not declare the trips, he said he publicised them in newspapers and Facebook.
“I have over 10,000 followers on Facebook, so it was hardly something I was keeping quiet about,” he wrote.
The cost suggested in the article, he said, was “complete nonsense”.
The commissioner later set Mr Paisley a deadline of October 23 to trace evidence to support his cost assessment. She also asked the the Daily Telegraph to release relevant material.
Mr Paisley registered other overseas visits in 2013.
The Daily Telegraph sent the commissioner a bundle containing documents relating to the trips.
A week after her deadline, Mr Paisley costed the April trip at “approximately £5,000 in total” adding that he was upgraded to a business ticket. The dates for the July visit “are less certain” he said, adding he was home by July 8.
“I have searched my office papers for flight details but have no records of them. Once again, I would put the costs at approximately £4,000 in total given the time of travel and current costs.”
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The commissioner replied by sending him the newspaper’s “considerable volume of evidence” pointing out differences from information he provided.
She again asked him to confirm the accuracy of the July dates.
Mr Paisley said the March flights were booked in economy class and upgraded, however, emails provided by the Daily Telegraph suggested the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs approved business-class tickets.
Mr Paisley replied that his recollection of the upgrading “could only have come from the experience on the business class flight”.
“Sri Lanka cabins are laid out very differently with the business class cabin taking up where the first class cabin would normally be. That would have left an impression with me that we had moved from a business class cabin. So, my perception that I was upgraded possibly came about as a result of the actual experience of getting on the flight and there appearing to be a first-class cabin which was not the case,” he said.
He maintained he was back by July 8 and acknowledged that the costs appeared to be approximately £42,000.
He added that he did not recall taking four helicopter flights while in Sri Lanka.
In a December letter, the commissioner said the Ministry of External Affairs “appear to have been working on the basis that you would remain in Sri Lanka until 11 July 2013”.
She suggested that the most straightforward way of resolving differences would be to make an approach direct to the Sri Lankan High Commission, although it was unable to help.
In January, Ms Hudson was replaced by Kathryn Stone.
Undated selfie 'taken at bonfire' offered as proof Ian Paisley was not in Sri Lanka on July 11
That month, Mr Paisley wrote that he was home for the Twelfth parades in 2013, “where celebrations commence on 11 July with various bonfires”.
“My diary shows I was in New York city from 13 July 2013 departing Northern Ireland sometime on the 12th and the UK on the 13th. I attended one such bonfire in my constituency.”
The commissioner suggested that Mr Paisley provide newspaper reports or other photographic evidence of his presence at July 11 events adding “your recollections and assertions are not, in themselves, sufficient to lead me to discount the evidence I have received via the Daily Telegraph”.
In May, Mr Paisley said Daily Telegraph had submitted documents detailing the total value of the two visits below £47,000.
“I cannot be certain of the costs as they were not sent to me at the time, and the government of Sri Lanka has confirmed they have no record of the same. However, comparing the travel arrangements with other previous and subsequent visits – that are registered – I believe that value to be less than that suggested.”
He further claimed bank transactions proved he was not away on July 11 and sent a photograph, said to be taken at a bonfire celebration.
“I recall attending a local celebration and having my photo taken at an ice-cream truck called Robinsons. A local person asking for a selfie at this joking that the truck was named after my party leader. I managed to track that person down and they have sent me a photo they had on their computer from that occasion. It was taken at 22.13 hours but given our clear nights it is fairly obvious we were celebrating.”
The commissioner dismissed these, however.
“I do not see any value in treating either your bank statement or the photograph you provided as relevant evidence,” she said.
In June Mr Paisley provided a calculation of the costs, which included seven helicopter trips – totalling £51,441.
The commissioner said, however, that the July costs assumed a five-day stay up to July 10. This did not reflect Mr Paisley’s narrative that he “based my calculations on the duration of the stay provided by the Daily Telegraph” of July 1-11.
At a number of occasions in the correspondence, Mr Paisley suggests that he was not in Sri Lanka between July 1 and July 11 because of financial activity in the UK shown on his bank statement.
However, the commissioner dismissed this as being the result financial transactions before the trip being logged with his bank some days later.