Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Northern Ireland Events Company boss avoids prison after guilty plea

Janice McAleese
Janice McAleese

By John Cassidy

The former boss of a public body has walked free from court with a suspended sentence after admitting misconduct in public office.

The Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) collapsed in 2007, leaving the taxpayer to cover more than £1.5m of debt.

Janice McAleese (55), of Elvanfort Biggar in Lanarkshire, Scotland, was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for three years.

At Belfast Crown Court last month, McAleese admitted misconduct in public office between October 1, 2004 and January 1, 2006.

Her co-accused, Damian Fleming (55) — who told police he was having an affair with McAleese — pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting her misconduct. Fleming, of Station Road in Maghera, Co Londonderry, was handed the same sentence.

McAleese had arranged for payments to Fleming’s company of more than £300,000 without “adequate approval and oversight” from the NIEC board.

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Damien Fleming

Prosecution barrister Michael Chambers told how McAleese became chief executive of NIEC in January 2004, but quit in April 2007 after it had amassed debts of £1.5m. As a result, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was appointed to investigate the collapse.

The NIEC used public money to promote major events, such as Elton John’s 1998 concert at Stormont.

The court heard that the final PWC report was not handed over to police until 2015 when a criminal investigation was started.

Judge Kevin Finnegan QC heard that NIEC became involved in funding the World Motocross Grand Prix event which took place in Northern Ireland in September 2004.

Mr Chambers said McAleese had signed agreements with promoter KWS, which was staging the event, and the NIEC board approved £160,000 of funding for the event in January 2004. Three months later, Fleming’s company Schism became involved to provide hospitality.

But KWS went bankrupt after the event owing money to creditors and NIEC stepped in to pay them. “The 2004 event cost NIEC £184,490.88 but the overall total cost was in the region of £500,000-£600,000,” the court heard. Mr Chambers also said “PWC discovered a funding agreement in the names of Janice McAleese and Damian Fleming dated June 1, 2005, which provided his Schism company with £160,000 of NIEC funds towards the 2005 event”.

From July 1, 2005, NIEC started “making substantial payments” to Schism despite having no board authorisation for it.

Accounts showed that between July and November 2005, NIEC paid £490,528.52 into Schism’s bank account and a further £64,500 into an account for a bar and restaurant Fleming owned in Derry. “Further analysis of his bank accounts showed that he made four payments totalling £49,800 to Janice McAleese,” the court heard.

During police questioning, divorcee McAleese denied she was in a “physical relationship” with Fleming but later claimed he gave her money “to gain a hold over her... had placed pressure on her, threatening to withdraw from the event which would have left the NIEC in financial trouble”.

Married father-of-three Fleming told police “that he had a sexual relationship with Janice McAleese... he admitted that he provided her with cheques as a personal loan so that she could buy an apartment”.

The prosecutor said it was clear McAleese had used her position as NIEC CEO to approve large sums of money to Fleming without “adequate approval and oversight” from the Board.

He added: “It is clear that Ms McAleese was involved in a sexual relationship with Mr Fleming and this represented a clear conflict of interest especially when she was improperly approving payments of large sums of money to him and his company. This was exacerbated by the £50,000 which he gave her in 2005.”

Judge Finnegan said neither defendant had acted dishonestly but rather “naively” in their transactions over the motocross event. He added that the two defendants “had managed to procure money without proper authority”.

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