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UDA boss Stitt's 1.7m reasons to be happy

Charity linked to UDA chiefs is in line to get grant for helping victims of terror gang

By Ciaran Barnes

Published 03/10/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster (centre) with councillor Sharon Skillen, Charter NI CEO David Stitt, Charter NI chairman Drew Haire and project manager Caroline Birch
First Minister Arlene Foster (centre) with councillor Sharon Skillen, Charter NI CEO David Stitt, Charter NI chairman Drew Haire and project manager Caroline Birch

UDA boss Jimmy ‘Millions’ Birch and his criminal sidekick Dee Stitt are laughing all the way to the bank after their pet project was selected to manage £1.7m of government investment.

The thugs’ Charter NI group will have a major say on how the cash is spent after it was approved by the Assembly Executive Office to dish out the funds to different projects.

Politicians and victims’ groups have been outraged by the move as Birch and Stitt are self-confessed UDA leaders.

They admitted being terror chiefs in a 2013 radio interview during which they also revealed they were “linking-in” with the DUP.

The UDA gang they lead in east Belfast and north Down is up to its neck in drug dealing, racketeering and intimidation. But their criminal backgrounds have not stopped the Executive Office entrusting them with £1.7m of Social Investment Fund (SIF) money.

Wealthy east Belfast UDA brigadier Birch sits on Charter NI’s board of directors, while convicted UDA gunman Stitt is its £35,000-a-year chief executive.

Not one to miss a photo opportunity, Stitt was pictured with First Minister Arlene Foster last Thursday when the funding package was announced.

Convicted UDA gunman and failed DUP council candidate Sam ‘Chalky’ White is another Charter NI employee. The 58-year-old also sits on the SIF East Belfast Steering Panel, which recommended Charter NI be entrusted with managing the £1.7m cash injection. There is no suggestion that any other members of Charter NI have links to the UDA.

Other members of the SIF East Belfast Steering Panel include DUP politicians Robin Newton and Sharon Skillen, both of whom are big Charter NI cheerleaders.

Mr Newton, an East Belfast MLA, has worked with Charter NI on restorative justice projects and one of its schemes currently occupies his old DUP office on the Castelreagh Road.

Ms Skillen, a local councillor, is a former fiancee of ex-UDA prisoner Thomas ‘Tinker’ Taylor.

There is no suggestion either DUP politician supports paramilitaries, but there can be no doubt about their backing for Charter NI.

Victims campaigner Raymond McCord last night slammed the decision to grant control of £1.7m of public funding to a UDA-linked group.

He said: “It’s a disgrace, a real slap in the face to the victims of paramilitary violence.”

And SDLP MLA Claire Hanna asked: “How could anyone have confidence to deal with such an organisation?”

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.

All this has taken place under the watchful eyes of money-mad UDA chiefs Jimmy ‘Millions’ Birch and his crony Dee Stitt.

The wealthy pair try to keep their riches hidden from hard-up loyalists under their command who are disgusted by their lavish lifestyles.

Birch owns numerous properties and drives a top of the range car. He recently sold a profitable window-cleaning business. But his greatest income is from UDA ‘brown envelopes’ and his biggest earner is Dee Stitt.

Stitt’s Bangor UDA is mired in drug dealing and racketeering and anyone who challenges them is beaten mercilessly. Among the gang’s victims was community worker Aaron McMahon, who was attacked with hammers for opposing an illegal UDA bonfire.

They also burnt an illegal bonfire in the Willowbrook area of the town, the smoke of which blew into a nursery school causing kids to be hospitalised.

Unlike his boss Birch, lavish lifestyle-loving Dee Stitt is not as careful about showing off his wealth.

He owns four properties including a holiday home in Bulgaria.

The 45-year-old also had a part-share in an east Belfast ice cream shop Fonzie’s, which has been rebranded Beep Beep’s following a paint bomb attack.

The business was targeted after Stitt’s cousin Billy Stitt filmed himself performing a sex act on the premises.

Two years ago, Dee Stitt’s UDA gang was behind a series of arson attacks at Irish Recycling Services that caused £1m worth of damage.

Billy Lamb, 44, from Ballyferris Walk in Bangor, was later convicted of setting two of the fires.

During his court case it was disclosed that the company was targeted because of its success in securing a contract put out to tender.

These incidents, which are just the tip of the iceberg, give a startling insight into the workings of the criminal gang led by Stitt.

Launching the programme, First Minister Arlene Foster stated that it would improve employability in east Belfast.

“This project is exactly what the Social Investment Fund is all about,” said the First Minister.

“It is bringing about social change in parts of Northern Ireland that are suffering from real disadvantage.”

After the funding announcement was made, Dee Stitt posed with the DUP leader for a series of publicity photographs.

Just a few months earlier Stitt had been appointed to the SIF East Belfast Steering Panel.

He secured his position on the powerful quango after producing a reference from DUP MLA Alex Easton, who described the UDA boss as “outstanding”.

Now Stitt and his boss Jimmy Birch have been tasked with managing £1.7m of SIF cash despite leading a criminal gang.

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