MLA denies that he struck photographer

Alderman Samuel Gardiner
Alderman Samuel Gardiner

An Upper Bann MLA has denied deliberately striking a photographer outside an employment tribunal in Belfast.

Ulster Unionist MLA Samuel Gardiner had been accused of striking a photographer on the face with an umbrella.

However, Mr Gardiner said that, when he exited the tribunal, it was raining.

“I was trying to get my umbrella up and the photographer was running rings around me trying to get my photograph,” he said.

Mr Gardiner said he was with party colleagues who tried to move the photographer away.

The Belfast Telegraph claimed that, at one point, Mr Gardiner (75), “jabbed the umbrella at the journalist, striking him on the face close to his right eye”, however this was denied by the MLA.

“The reporter was not seriously injured,” the newspaper stated.

Mr Gardiner had been accompanied to the employment hearing by his researcher, Mr Mark Owens.

The case had been taken by William Lloyd Lavery.

Mr Lavery worked for Mr Gardiner for 11 years as a press officer and adviser. He now acts as a press officer for Ukip’s Northern Ireland operation.

Mr Gardiner said he had merely been trying to open his umbrella as it was raining.

A UUP spokesman said Mr Gardiner did not believe his actions were intentional.

“If the Belfast Telegraph believes that there was any intention to assault one of their reporters, they should take it to the PSNI,” he said.

Mr Gardiner has been an MLA for Upper Bann since 2003 and was re-elected alongside fellow Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson at the last Assembly elections.