Ian Paisley Jnr has warned that the man set to become Northern Ireland’s new Attorney General will “come to regret” comments he made about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) wanting to go to prison.
Mr Paisley responded to John Larkin’s comments outside Belfast High Court yesterday, minutes after he was fined £5,000 for refusing to name a confidential source.
The North Antrim representative narrowly avoided a jail term after he was convicted of contempt for defying a court order compelling him to tell the Billy Wright Inquiry the name of a prison officer who claimed thousands of files relating to the 1997 Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) gun attack had been destroyed.
In court on Monday Mr Larkin QC, counsel for the inquiry, who is tipped to take the Attorney General position when policing and justice powers are devolved, suggested in colourful terms that Mr Paisley would “relish” a jail term.
He said: “Mr Paisley appears to want it too much. Brandishing custody in front of Mr Paisley would be like brandishing a whip in front Sir Max Mosley.”
Speaking outside the High Court yesterday and supported by his father, Mr Paisley Jnr dismissed those comments as “flippant, trite and spiteful”.
He said: “I have never sought jail on this. In 2007 when I penned the letter to David Wright, I penned the letter for the right reasons to assist David Wright and his family in getting to the bottom of a dastardly murder of a loved one.
“I didn’t believe this would result in me standing here outside the High Court at any time. I have never sought jail, I know what it’s like to have a parent in jail. I think it says more about him and his character that he would use such a flippant, trite and trivial remark and compare my case in such a nasty spiteful way, than it does about me.”
Mr Larkin, 45, a human rights lawyer who has carried out legal work for Sinn Fein and the DUP, will be offered the position as part of a political deal devolving policing and justice powers.
He would be the first Northern Ireland Attorney General since Basil Kelly’s term ended after direct rule from London was imposed 25 years ago.
However, Mr Paisley warned: “A lot of things could happen. I think those comments say more about Mr Larkin than they do about me. I think that’s very clear. I don’t think they were in keeping with the spirit of this case at any point.
"I think realistically John will come to regret the day that he said those things because I think he knows that they were not in keeping or in touch with the realities or sensitivities of this case.”
Handing down the £5,000 fine yesterday Mr Justice Gillen said it would be a “recipe for legal anarchy if individuals could decide to pick and choose with impunity those laws which they choose to obey and those laws they defy”.
And he said it was important that the inquiry uncovered “every grain of relevant material” that could “throw a shaft of light into a potentially murky area”.
The judge gave Mr Paisley three months to pay the penalty saying he had taken into account the fact that he was a “family man with four children”, had a mortgage, “substantial overdraft” and had made unsuccessful attempts to persuade his informant to come forward.
He also noted that in the interim Mr Paisley could consider complying with the court order.
It is thought Mr Paisley Jnr will be out of pocket by an estimated £43,000.
As well as the £5,000 fine Mr Paisley Jnr will have to pay his own legal costs of about £35,000 and make a £3,000 contribution towards the legal costs of the inquiry team.
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