UDA boss Dee Stitt returns to work with Charter NI as pressure mounts for him to step down
UDA boss Dee Stitt has returned to work with the publicly funded ex-prisoners' organisation Charter NI.
It comes amid growing pressure on Stitt to step down after he was pictured alongside First Minister Arlene Foster after Charter NI was awarded £1.7m in public funding.
That pressure intensified following an interview with the Guardian in which he described flute band the North Down Defenders as "homeland security" protecting his territory "from anybody".
It was then 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 after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the face-saving deal - accusing internal opponents of leaking the details in a "dirty-tricks" campaign to undermine him.
First Minister Arlene Foster and DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson later said they understood Stitt had stood down as Charter NI chief executive.
Stitt also apologised for the comments.
On Wednesday, The Irish News reported sources that said Stitt was adamant he would remain in his post.
"The DUP aren't Charter NI, they should never have announced a resignation when the board hadn't even met to discuss it," said the source.
In a statement Charter NI said Stitt remained its chief executive.
It said: "Following publication by the Guardian on-line of an extract of an interview given by our chief executive the board of Charter NI confirmed our view of the unacceptability of the statement made and the language used.
"Our chief executive recognised his error of judgement and apologised immediately for the content of the interview. We have now completed an internal review process in line with our company procedures and best employment practice."
The statement continued: "As indicated in our previous statement this process and it’s outcomes are confidential in keeping, again, with best employment practice.
"As a board we have been deeply concerned about the damaging impact of media attention over the past weeks which has brought Charter NI’s unblemished record and achievements for our communities into question.
"Our staff continue to work hard to improve the life opportunities for people in east Belfast and North Down, and the board wish to pay tribute to them during this testing period.
"We take our governance responsibilities extremely seriously ensuring that all aspects of this organisation are beyond reproach, as has been evidenced by all statutory monitoring, evaluation and vouching, and independent professional financial auditing."
Charter NI was initially set-up to help UDA ex-prisoners, but it has expanded rapidly in recent years with millions of pounds in government funding.
Stitt's UDA gang in north Down has been linked to drug dealing, racketeering and intimidation. Among the gang’s victims was community worker Aaron McMahon, who was attacked with hammers for opposing an illegal UDA bonfire.
The notorious loyalist served a five year prison term for an attempted UDA armed robbery in the 1990s.
In 2008, Stitt was back before the courts charged with kidnapping a man in Bangor and threatening to kill him after he was discovered in the boot of a car. However, the case against him and two co-accused was later dropped.
In a 2013 radio interview he confessed to being a UDA member from the age of 15.
Prior to the Guardian interview, in a statement he told the Nolan show his paramilitary life which he had been a part of, was in his past.