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UDA chief row 'won't undermine campaign against crime'

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Controversy surrounding a UDA leader's role within a publicly-funded charity does not detract from a new campaign to tackle organised crime, the Justice Minister has said.

Although the furore over Dee Stitt's role as chief executive of Charter NI has been unhelpful, Claire Sugden said it would not frustrate Executive efforts to eradicate paramilitarism.

She said: "Yes, the negative publicity around Charter NI has been unhelpful, but it won't undermine the campaign that we are doing."

Charter NI is overseeing the delivery of a £1.7m employment scheme in east Belfast, as part of the Executive's £80m Social Investment Fund (SIF).

Its chief executive, convicted armed robber Stitt, who denies being a UDA chief, has faced down repeated calls for his resignation in the wake of a newspaper interview, in which he launched a foul-mouthed tirade against the Government and claimed his flute band in North Down provided "homeland security".

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he believes Mr Stitt should step down, while First Minister Arlene Foster has said it would be unlawful for her to direct that he be sacked from the £35,000-a-year post.

Ms Sugden declined to be drawn on the matter. "The negative publicity around Dee Stitt has been completely unhelpful," she added.

"I think Charter NI as an organisation is doing good work within their community and we need to maintain our focus on that."

The minister was speaking at the launch of a new £530,000 advertising campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of buying counterfeit goods.

The hard-hitting advert, which will be shown on television and in cinemas, shows how money spent on fake goods goes towards lining the pockets of organised criminals.

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