Belfast Telegraph

Charter NI boss Stitt threatens to sue Alliance man in row over what rank he holds in UDA

By Claire McNeilly

Charter NI chief executive Dee Stitt is threatening legal action against an Alliance Party councillor, it has emerged.

He warned Andrew Muir from Ards and North Down Council that he would be "hearing from my solicitor" after the politician called him a "self-confessed UDA commander".

Mr Muir, a former mayor, issued a statement on Twitter on Friday confirming that he had reported to police allegations that the loyalist terror group had held a meeting in a community centre in North Down.

Responding to that post the following day, Dee@eastside2020 wrote: "Its (sic) David Stitt, could you tell me were (sic) I self confessed to being a UDA commander?

"You will be hearing from my solicitor on Monday."

Despite making several attempts over the weekend, the Belfast Telegraph was unable to reach Stitt for comment before going to print.

The original claims brought to light last week on BBC's Spotlight programme alleged the meeting was chaired by Stitt, and those attending were asked to leave their mobile phones outside the room.

Meanwhile, DUP Assembly Speaker Robin Newton is also under growing pressure to quit.

The Spotlight investigation alleged that Mr Newton had a role with Charter NI that he did not declare.

Mr Newton has rejected claims he misled the Assembly.

Yesterday, Sunday Life published new photographs of him alongside Jimmy Birch, a Charter NI director and UDA boss. One of the pictures was taken in the summer of 2016 - nine months after a Government assessment of terror gangs found the UDA to be involved in "organised crime including drug dealing, robbery and extortion".

The East Belfast DUP politician denies claims that he misled the Assembly about the true nature of his role in the UDA-linked charity.

A spokesman for his party said: "Robin Newton has said he did not mislead the Northern Ireland Assembly and has announced he will not be seeking re-election as Speaker.

"The party supports this decision.

"Robin continues to do good work as an MLA in East Belfast and he is a valued part of our DUP team."

Mr Newton, who has confirmed he will not be a candidate for the £87,500-a-year Speaker's job if the Assembly returns, blocked an SDLP question last year on the awarding of £1.7m of public funds to Charter NI.

At the time Mr Newton denied being an "adviser" to the group - a position contradicted by the charity's documents and minutes of meetings that repeatedly describe him as such.

Charter NI itself called Mr Newton an adviser, posting on Facebook in May 2016: "Congratulations to our adviser Robin Newton MLA in being re-elected to represent the people of East Belfast.

"A post that he works hard for and highly deserves."

Mr Newton is now facing a police probe over his failure to declare an interest on top of calls to resign by Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.

Among the concerns raised by rival politicians is the role of active loyalist paramilitaries such as Birch and Stitt in community groups awarded millions of pounds of public money through the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF).

As a member of the SIF east Belfast steering group, Mr Newton works closely with both of the senior loyalists.

Ex-Stormont Speaker Lord Alderdice has said Mr Newton's position as Speaker was "not tenable" as a result of the BBC revelations.

Belfast Telegraph

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