By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister has said he is sorry that a statement of condolence he made following the death of David Tweed has added to the hurt felt by his victims.
Mr Allister said his motives had been “misconstrued” and that he did not condone paedophilia in any way.
Tweed, a former Irish rugby international and DUP and TUV politician, died in a road crash in Co Antrim last month.
He was convicted of child sex offences in 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison.
He was released in October 2016 after his convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in Belfast due to the way that the jury had been directed at his original trial.
Following Tweed’s death, his stepdaughter Amanda Brown said he was a paedophile and a violent thug, and challenged politicians who put out complimentary statements in the wake of his death.
His daughters have spoken out publicly since his death about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father.
Mr Allister had earlier said that he stood by his statement of condolence, when he described Tweed as “larger than life”.
But in a statement on Wednesday, the MLA said: “I am the least important person in the controversy that has followed the sudden death of David Tweed.
“It is the family members who matter, all of them, whatever side of the issues they are on.
“My intention by offering my condolences in the immediate aftermath of Mr Tweed’s passing was to extend my sympathies to those family members who are grieving.
“In light of misconstruction of my motives and intentions I unequivocally repeat that I and my party never have and never will condone paedophilia in any shape or form, irrespective of where it arises.”
Mr Allister continued: “Mr Tweed’s daughters are clearly hurting. I accept and am sorry that some of my comments, whether as reported or because they could have been better chosen, have added in any way to such hurt.
“I have always and continue to urge anyone with allegations of criminality to go to the police in a timely manner, even when it is very difficult because of familial relationship.”
Earlier this week two DUP politicians Ian Paisley and Mervyn Storey, who had also offered messages of condolence, said it had never been their intention to “add to any hurt suffered nor would we ever be dismissive of any victim of abuse”.
In a joint statement they said: “No one could be but devastated by these accounts and we have always sought to support and enable abuse victims to come forward by supporting Women’s Aid and other such fantastic organisations.”
Last week, Ms Brown said some of the sentiments in the statements were “massively disrespectful to all victims of abuse”.
“When people are passing comment about this great man after knowing what he was convicted of, to still support him, that’s the message that they’re giving out to other victims,” she told the BBC.