LESLIE DEATH SHOCKS TOWN

THE brother of former North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA James Leslie , who died while holidaying in Costa Rica, is flying out this week to make preparations for his body to be flown back to Ballymoney.

John Leslie will be co-operating with local authorities in an attempt to discover the exact cause of the 50-year-old's death which has caused shock in Ballymoney and beyond.

Mr Leslie's sister Rose Jane told the Times: "We are unaware of the exact circumstances of the death and are waiting the results of an autopsy but we all devastated.

"He was a lovely man who would have helped anyone. We will really miss him."

Whilst the family has not yet any indication when Mr Leslie's body will arrive home, it is understood arrangements will be made for a service in Ballymoney and interment at the family burial ground in Drumtullagh Parish Church near Mosside.

Mr Leslie was visiting a friend in Costa Rica at the time of his death.

He was a junior member in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the former North Antrim Assemblyman, whose father owns the extensive Leslie Hill estate at Ballymoney, was married to second wife Judena and they had an eight-year-old daughter.

The chairman of the North Antrim Unionist Association and Ballymoney Councillor, James Simpson, said the sudden and untimely death of Mr. Leslie came as a terrible shock to all who knew and respected him.

"While James and I had our political differences over the Belfast Agreement, I respected him as somehone who was honest, straightforward and totally committed to ensuring Norhtern Ireland's honourable place in the United Kingdom.

"His death is a sad loss to his family and to his many friends in Northern Ireland and elsewhere," Mr. Simpson added.

DUP Assembly Member for North Antrim, Ian Paisley Junior has responded to the news that James Leslie has died. Mr. Leslie was an Assembly Member for the North Antrim constituency between 1998 and 2003.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Junior said he too was shocked and saddened at the news.

"What is all the more shocking is the fact that he was such a young man at 51 years of age. Our thoughts and prayers go out to James's family at this tragic time and we assure them all of our deepest sympathy at this very sad news", said the DUP MLA.

Mr Leslie was actively involved in the Conserative Party in Northern Ireland up until his death, having left the UUP in 2006.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey led tributes to the Ballymoney man.

"The sudden passing of James Leslie has come as a profound shock to all involved in politics in Northern Ireland," he said.

"As a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and then as a Junior Minister in the Executive, James made a significant contribution to politics at a time of great challenge in Northern Ireland, as our society emerged from the pain of the Troubles."

Ulster Unionist representative for North Antrim, Robert Coulter spoke fondly of his former colleague.

"For James' life to end at a time when he still had much to offer our society is a matter of profound regret.

"He worked tremendously hard when he was a junior minister. With his background in education and experience within banking he added a very valuable aspect to the Assembly," the UUP man said.

Mr. Mervyn Storey said the news of Mr. Leslie's death was devastating and he extended his deepest sympathy to Colonel Leslie and Mrs. Leslie as well as to the entire family circle.

"Nobody ever envisages this set of circumstances to visit a home and I think the fact that he was such a young man who died very suddenly is a reminder of the frail nature of life,. My thoughts and prayers are with the family," Mr. Storey added.

He said James had made a contribution to the political scene in North Antrim while he served in the Assembly. The Mayor of Ballymoney, Councillor John Finlay, added his condolences to the family and said the death had come as a great shock to him.

Mr Leslie stood unsuccessfully for the Conservative Party in North Down at the last Assembly election in 2007.