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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Challenge over SF seat rejected
Michelle Gildernew was congratulated by Gerry Adams
Michelle Gildernew was congratulated by Gerry Adams
An Ulster Unionist attempt to oust Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew from her Westminster seat has been rejected at Northern Ireland's High Court.

Ms Gildernew won the Fermanagh-South Tyrone seat in June's general election by 53 votes.

At the High Court on Friday, the challenge by the defeated Ulster Unionist candidate James Cooper, who launched a petition to remove her, was rejected.

Mr Cooper, an Enniskillen solicitor, had alleged that "threats and actions" by Sinn Fein members led to votes being cast after closing time in a polling station at Garrison in County Fermanagh.


We do not consider that the number of voting papers issued in that time could be materially more than 30

Lord Chief Justice
Sir Robert Carswell

During a two-day hearing in the High Court in Belfast last month, two polling clerks said there had been voting after the 2200 BST closing time.

One of them said 15 or 16 votes were cast, while the other estimated the number at between 15 and 20.

Mr Cooper said in his petition that if the invalid votes wrongly included in the count were disallowed, he would have a majority.

However, on Friday, Lord Chief Justice Sir Robert Carswell, who heard the case with Lord Justice McCollum, rejected this analysis.

Delivering the court's verdict he said: "We do not consider that the number of voting papers issued in that time could be materially more than 30, and that number falls well short of the successful candidate's majority of 53 votes.

"We therefore hold that the breaches of the regulations did not affect the result of the election."

Action was 'vindicated'

Speaking outside the court, Mr Cooper said his lawyers would study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.

He said he was extremely disappointed but believed "the court entirely vindicated our decision to take this case".


If there had have been any evidence of intimidation we wouldn't have won the case

Michelle Gildernew
"The judges in the court were extremely critical of the behaviour of Sinn Fein and its supporters at the Garrison polling station," he said.

"I believe the decision of the court not to make a costs order in this case amply reflects the view that this type of abuse can't be tolerated in a modern democracy."

However, Ms Gildernew said the judgment had shown that her party had not abused the electoral system.

"If there had have been any evidence of intimidation we wouldn't have won the case," she said.

"There was no evidence of reprehensible behaviour."

Northern Ireland's Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley said: "The electoral office will be looking at the judgement and will implement any changes that are appropriate."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Noreen Erskine reports:
"The lord chief justice criticised the behaviour of Sinn Fein supporters but he acknowledged waiting voters were frustrated"
See also:

09 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
UUP 'to fight' Fermanagh result
08 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein 'greens' the West
08 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Women MPs sweep to power
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