Charter NI 'dealing with matter internally' as MP claims UDA boss Dee Stitt steps aside
Board 'deeply disappointed' and 'greatly concerned' by the content of Stitt's Guardian interview - UDA boss apologises for 'lack of judgement'
Charter NI has said it is dealing with the matter of UDA boss Dee Stitt's interview with the Guardian internally after DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the UDA boss had "stepped aside" as chief executive.
Last week, Stitt proposed stepping down after a lengthy Charter NI board meeting.
The meeting was held amid growing anger at the loyalist's position in the group.
However, over the weekend it was revealed he was embroiled in a stand-off with his employers at Charter NI after withdrawing his offer to resign as its chief executive.
Stitt threatened to rescind the offer last Thursday after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the face-saving deal - accusing internal opponents of leaking the details in a "dirty-tricks" campaign to undermine him.
On Wednesday's Stephen Nolan show, Lagan Valley DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson revealed Stitt had stepped aside, according to his information.
Charter NI, in a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, said: "The Board of Charter NI was deeply disappointed with and greatly concerned by the content of an extract of an interview given by our chief executive to the Guardian newspaper and shown recently in local media.
"Our CEO understands the concerns of the Board and has expressed sincere apologies for his lack of judgement on this occasion and the impact it has had on Charter NI.
"The board are addressing this matter internally."
The statement continued: "The media attention on Charter NI in recent weeks has been of grave concern to the board as it has the potential for detracting from the good work being undertaken by our staff in improving the lives of people in our operating area.
"For several months we have sought to support our chief executive in the face of persistent unsubstantiated allegations.
"Despite this pressure he has continued to effectively oversee the work of Charter NI as it achieves continued success through positive project outcomes."
Stitt's North Down UDA gang has been linked to widespread drug-dealing, racketeering and intimidation.
In a controversial interview in the Guardian, the UDA leader, who is paid £35,000 a year as Charter NI's CEO, described his North Down Defenders flute band as "our Homeland Security".
He added: "We are here to defend North Down from anybody."
Pressure had been building over his leadership role in Charter NI, which has become politically embarrassing to the DUP.
First Minister Arlene Foster was photographed standing alongside Stitt - a convicted armed robber - when £1.7m public funding for the group was announced last month.
Stitt's offer to step aside followed comments by Sir Jeffrey last week, who said his position as chief executive was untenable. The Lagan Valley MP said: "I don't support the comments. I have criticised what he (Stitt) said. If I was in charge of Charter NI, I would not have him in charge, but I am not in charge.
"Charter NI has a board and these things have to be done legally. This is not Soviet Russia."
However, a close associate of Stitt in North Down said last week: "Dee went boogaloo when he heard about the story of him quitting in the paper. He blames elements in Charter NI for leaking the story in a bid to undermine his position.
"Dee made clear that he had reached his decision to stand down of his own accord, but now he feels that people are briefing against him.
"It's fair to say, at the moment, he's in no hurry to go anywhere."
Stitt retains significant support on Charter NI's board. The organisation was originally set up to help UDA ex-prisoners. Stitt himself served five years in jail for attempted armed robbery.
Among the victims of his North Down UDA gang was popular community worker and father-of-three Aaron McMahon, who was beaten with hammers for opposing an illegal paramilitary bonfire.