Belfast Telegraph

Civil servant probe chief announced

An investigation into alleged misconduct by a senior Northern Ireland civil servant will be carried out by a retired Welsh Assembly official.

Sir Jon Shortridge, former permanent secretary of the Cardiff administration, will examine events leading to Paul Priestly being suspended from the Department for Regional Development last month.

It is claimed Mr Priestly drafted a letter of complaint to a Stormont scrutiny committee, which was sent by one of a team of independent investigators looking into the business of Northern Ireland Water (NIW).

Four NIW board members were sacked in March because £28.5 million in contracts were found to have been issued without the work being properly tendered.

Mr Priestly's suspension was prompted by later exchanges between one of the investigators and the Public Accounts Committee which was also investigating the NIW affair.

Phoenix Gas chief executive Peter Dixon was unhappy with the tone and direction of questions by committee members in July and wrote a complaint letter which was withdrawn. Mr Priestly had advised Mr Dixon on the form the letter should take.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Bruce Robinson, who suspended Mr Priestly, said Sir Jon cannot start work immediately because of other commitments but will begin his investigation in October, and should be finished by the end of that month.

The 63-year-old father-of-two held the top post in Cardiff from 1999 to 2008. He chairs the Audit Panel of Cardiff County Council and is a council member of Cardiff University.

Mr Robinson outlined Sir Jon's terms of reference: "The report will include your comment on whether you believe there may have been any misconduct, including breaches of relevant standards of conduct, terms and conditions of appointment, and in Mr Priestly's case, his personal responsibilities as accounting officer and head of department."

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