Apology call after DUP candidate’s ‘false’ Afghanistan claim

The DUPs Upper Bann election literature containing the Afghanistan claim
The DUPs Upper Bann election literature containing the Afghanistan claim

Afghanistan veteran Doug Beattie has called on DUP election rival David Simpson to apologise to voters after false claims Mr Simpson had visited troops in the war torn country.

Both men are contesting the Upper Bann seat in next month’s general election.

Mr Beattie is a former Army captain with the Royal Irish who is standing as the Ulster Unionist candidate. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The DUP said a printing error led to the mistaken claim, but a party spokesman pointed out that Mr Simpson had “witnessed the bravery of our soldiers in Iraq” around the time he was said to have been in Afghanistan.

It remained unclear last night if the leaflets containing the error were still being circulated or have been withdrawn.

Mr Beattie said he was “extremely disappointed” at the erroneous claim.

“David Simpson should apologise to voters for the false claim made in his election leaflet that he has ‘visited British troops the front line in Afghanistan’,” he said.

“Many politicians visit troops on the front line of any given theatre of operations but there is no shame on any politician who doesn’t visit the troops. However, there is shame on any politician who says they have visited troops but in reality have not.

“I am extremely disappointed, given that in 2010 and 2011 I was serving and fighting in Afghanistan with the Royal Irish Regiment.”

Mr Beattie added: “One would have thought that Mr Simpson would have read his own election leaflet prior to publication, realised that he had never been to visit front line troops in Afghanistan, and corrected the error.

“Mr Simpson needs to explain exactly how this situation has arisen, apologise and move on.”

In November 2010 it emerged that Mr Simpson and UUP peer Ken Maginnis had a trip to Afghanistan cancelled when the MoD could not find body armour large enough to fit them.

Both men had been due to meet up with Royal Irish and Irish Guards on the front line.

At the time, Lord Maginnis said he was “absolutely furious” at the MoD’s decision.

“To be told at the last minute that the British Army has not got two flak jackets with a 54” chest was just a bit thick,” he told the BBC.

Lord Maginnis, who was said to weigh around 18 stone in 2010, added: “I wanted to go out and meet the troops and made considerable efforts to clear my diary. So this made me very cross. I am no giant, neither is Davy Simpson. We are both reasonably normal, although we are bigger than most.

“The reality is that we have young men and women out there fighting for us. They are putting their lives on the line. They deserve a little bit of consideration.”

Lord Maginnis also said that he had made the trip to Afghanistan two years previously – and had lost weight since then.

Responding to Lord Maginnis’s claim at that time, the MoD said: “Nobody is allowed to board an aircraft to Afghanistan without correctly fitting body armour.

“The MoD provides a wide range of sizes but regrettably none was suitable on this occasion. We recognise the importance of politicians visiting Afghanistan but this trip has been postponed while we try to source sufficiently sized body armour.”