Northern Ireland news

Print firm at DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's home embroiled in election 'dirty tricks' probe

The DUP's mock ballot paper had an Alliance logo beside TUV candidate William Blair's name
Brendan Hughes

A PRINTING business run from DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's home is embroiled in a police probe into claims of "dirty tricks" during the council elections.

The PSNI launched an investigation in May after a TUV man complained that a DUP mock ballot paper described him as an Alliance candidate.

William Blair, who lost is seat on Causeway Coast and Glens council by about four votes, claimed the mock ballot breached electoral law – and may have cost him the election.

The mock ballot was produced by AC Print, which is run by Mr Clarke's son from the family home outside Randalstown in Co Antrim. The words "printed by AC Print" run along one side of the paper.

It was distributed at some polling stations in the Ballymoney area, encouraging voters to back three DUP candidates.

The DUP at the time said it was a "printing error and was corrected by removing the incorrect party logo by pen".

But TUV leader Jim Allister said the party was "expecting a full police investigation", telling the Ballymoney Chronicle: "This, frankly, is a dirty trick too far."

In his complaint to the PSNI, Mr Blair said that under electoral law it is an offence to publish a false statement of fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate.

Mr Blair told The Irish News he was unsure but it was "quite possible" the mock ballot issue may have impacted his vote.

DUP councillor Linda Clarke, right, with party leader Arlene Foster, and inset, how The Irish News revealed the controversy

"I was pretty annoyed when I first discovered it, and when I rang [the DUP] I was even more annoyed at their whole attitude to it. Their whole attitude was, 'That doesn't really matter, what odds'," he said.

DUP councillor Ivor Wallace at the time described it as a "genuine mistake by the printer" and pointed out that 'TUV' was stated below Mr Blair's name on the mock ballot.

He said he apologised to Mr Blair on polling day and when the issue was highlighted, Alliance was marked out on the papers.

It is understood there have been no arrests as part of the police probe.

Jeremy Lindsay, Causeway Coast and Glens District Commander Superintendent, encouraged anyone with information to contact police.

"Police received a complaint with regards to what was described as a 'mock ballot' that was allegedly circulated on Thursday May 2. Enquiries into this matter are ongoing," he said in a statement.

It is not the first time AC Print has been embroiled in controversy.

Contact details for the firm have been used as part of the South Antrim MLA's controversial planning advice business Versatile Consultancy, council documents show.

It was also revealed that Mr Clarke's wife, DUP councillor Linda Clarke, was involved in awarding AC Print more than £4,500 in work from Antrim and Newtownabbey council.

Trevor and Linda Clarke have insisted they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

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