Po­lice re­ceive com­plaint about New­ton af­ter BBC al­le­ga­tions

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS | POLITICS - BY SUZANNE BREEN

PO­LICE have re­ceived a com­plaint al­leg­ing that As­sem­bly Speaker Robin New­ton broke the law by not declar­ing an in­ter­est in Char­ter NI.

It is un­der­stood that a mem­ber of the pub­lic lodged the com­plaint about the East Belfast MLA in the wake of al­le­ga­tions con­tained in a BBC pro­gramme on Tues­day.

The PSNI yes­ter­day didn’t name Mr New­ton, but con­firmed that “a com­plaint has been re­ceived fol­low­ing the Spot­light pro­gramme and this is cur­rently be­ing re­viewed”.

The DUP politi­cian de­nies claims that he mis­led the As­sem­bly about the true na­ture of his role in the UDA-linked char­ity.

The Speaker has re­fused to re­sign from his £87,500 a year job, but says he won’t run again if the As­sem­bly re­turns.

Ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party in Stor­mont bar the DUP has called on him to step aside. Ar­lene Foster has re­mained silent on the is­sue.

Spot­light re­ported that when Mr New­ton blocked an ur­gent ques­tion on the award­ing of pub­lic funds to the con­tro­ver­sial char­ity last au­tumn, he hadn’t re­vealed his key role as an ad­viser to the group.

The BBC ob­tained in­ter­nal Char­ter NI pa­pers, in­clud­ing copies of its board min­utes, which it said proved that Mr New­ton had “an im­por­tant role in help­ing to run Char­ter NI, in­clud­ing at­tend­ing full board meet­ings from mid-2012”.

Sinn Fein yes­ter­day lodged a com­plaint about the al­le­ga­tions that Mr New­ton mis­led the As­sem­bly.

West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said: “We are also seek­ing con­fir­ma­tion as to whether he was in breach of the Sec­tion 43 NI Act ap­pli­ca­ble to MLAs on dec­la­ra­tion of in­ter­ests.

“We be­lieve that Robin New­ton’s po­si­tion as Speaker is com­pletely un­ten­able in light of the se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions in a BBC Spot­light pro­gramme and that he should re­sign with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. The pub­lic de­mand in­tegrity in govern­ment and the Speaker should be above re­proach and in­de­pen­dently ac­count­able to the po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions.”

Mr New­ton sat on a So­cial In­vest­ment Fund (SIF) steer­ing group that awarded Char­ter NI a £1.7m con­tract.

The char­ity’s chief ex­ec­u­tive is UDA boss Dee Stitt. His north Down gang has been linked to drug deal­ing, rack­e­teer­ing and intimidation.

SDLP deputy leader Ni­chola Mal­lon called for key doc­u­men­ta­tion from SIF steer­ing groups to be pub­lished by the head of the Civil Ser­vice.

She said that in or­der to ad­dress con­cerns about SIF pro­cesses, steer­ing group min­utes and con­flict of in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tions should be pub­lished.

“Much of the at­ten­tion fol­low­ing this week’s Spot­light pro­gramme has rightly fallen on Robin New­ton. His fail­ure to de­clare the full ex­tent of his in­volve­ment with Char­ter NI is a mat­ter of se­ri­ous con­cern,” she stated.

“But the crit­i­cal flaws at the heart of the So­cial In­vest­ment Fund re­late to the com­plete fail­ure to man­age per­ceived con­flicts of in­ter­est where they arise.

“It de­fies be­lief that the sys­tem al­lowed steer­ing groups, com­prised of po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and com­mu­nity group mem­bers, to al­lo­cate sig­nif­i­cant sums of pub­lic money to groups which their mem­bers were con­nected with. That cre­ates sus­pi­cion.”

Ms Mal­lon said that the only way to ad­dress the prob­lem was by to­tal trans­parency.

“That can be achieved if the min­utes of steer­ing group meet­ings and full con­flict of in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tions are made pub­lic. I made that call in De­cem­ber of last year. It was ig­nored then. It can­not be ig­nored now,” she said.

“I will be writ­ing to the head of the Civil Ser­vice re­quest­ing that this doc­u­men­ta­tion, which rests with the Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice, is pub­lished in the in­ter­ests of trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and pub­lic con­fi­dence in the po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions.”

Politi­cians have urged As­sem­bly Speaker Robin New­ton to stand down

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