Belfast Telegraph

Civil servant axed over water firm

A top civil servant has been suspended over claims that he influenced an independent review of Northern Ireland Water which ended in the sacking of the board chairman and three non-executive directors.

Paul Priestly, permanent secretary at the Department of Regional Development, was told to leave his desk by Stormont civil service boss Bruce Robinson.

The suspension was announced after fresh allegations of Mr Priestly's involvement in the review process.

Board chairman Chris Mellor and the three directors were sacked by Northern Ireland regional development minister Conor Murphy last March after a report by the independent review claimed there had been a "serious breakdown in the governance and control framework" of the company.

A series of emails allegedly compiled by Mr Priestly is now at the centre of a new investigation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at Stormont.

A department statement said tonight that the suspension followed an earlier PAC hearing and was to facilitate the investigation. It was not a disciplinary penalty.

The investigation would consider new information which had just emerged - a reference to a three-month investigation by journalist Jamie Delargy, business editor of Ulster Television.

The independent review was commissioned by Mr Priestly and Laurence Mackenzie, the water board's chief executive. At the time, one of the sacked directors, Declan Gormley, 51, said the dismissals were unmerited.

He said: "I take no personal pleasure in anyone suffering as a result of this debacle. I was only motivated to ensure that the reputations of myself and the other directors would be vindicated and to bring to light what has been going on in this sorry saga."

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