Belfast Telegraph

Iris Robinson damned by report: Guilty of serious breach of Assembly code

By Liam Clarke

Iris Robinson, the former DUP MP and MLA, has been found guilty of a "serious breach" of the Assembly's code of conduct for failing to declare payments from three businessmen, one of whom she was having an affair with.

The findings of a long-delayed report of the Committee of Standards and Privileges at Stormont were published yesterday.

The report covered an investigation into the behaviour of Mrs Robinson and her husband Peter, the First Minister, by Alastair Bain, the Assembly' Commissioner on Standards.

It concluded that failing to declare the three payments - which totalled £50,000, but only £5,000 of which she had kept - was not best practice.

One £25,000 payment each was received from the two developers who were friends of the Robinsons, Fred Fraser and Ken Campbell. Of this, £5,000 was paid to Mrs Robinson by her teen lover, Kirk McCambley.

Earlier Press reports had stated that Mrs Robinson was allowed to use the £5,000 to pay debt, but the report said it was intended that she should use it to charitable purposes of her own choice.

Yesterday Alastair Ross, the DUP MP who chairs the Standards Committee, said it never determined what the £5,000 was actually used for or where it was, because it was "immaterial".

This was because her offence was not receiving it, but failing to disclose any of the payments to the Electoral Commission or the Assembly register of interests.

What she did with the money Mr McCambley gave her was considered to lie outside the scope of either the Standards Commissioner or the committee.

The report pointed out that some allegations were not relevant to the investigation because they related to Mrs Robinson's role as a councillor or MP, rather than an MLA.

The First Minister was also investigated for allegedly breaking the Ministerial Code by failing to report the two £25,0000 payments to the authorities at Castlereagh, Westminster or Stormont when he became aware of them.

However, the report found that he had no duty to inform the Assembly of breaches by other Members, even if they were illegal.

The Committee on Standards and Priviliges comprises members of all the Assembly parties who all voted for the report. However, Anna Lo of Alliance said she had not voted for a number of sections to be redacted in the report.

These included Press reports already in the public domain and available on the internet.

Jimmy Spratt of the DUP said that Ms Lo had only voted against three redactions.

A source close to Mrs Robinson said that her lawyer, John McBurney, had sought the redactions on the basis of medical opinion.

One of the redacted passages was an interview with Mr Robinson about his wife's condition in 2010.

Ms Lo also hit out at the delay of nearly five years in producing the report.

It was due to be published last September but was delayed on foot of requests by Mr McBurney.

"Serious damage has been done to public confidence in the political institutions by the length of time taken to publish this report," she said. "Part of the delay was caused by the legal challenges and requests by the Robinsons' lawyer to remove certain aspects of the report."

She claimed the version of the report that was published did not do justice to the original.

"It is important in the interests of openness and transparency that this report was published. However, I do feel that the DUP dominated Committee was at times overly cautious in the deletion of some of the contents. I’m concerned that too much was deleted from the Commissioner’s report and what has been published does not do justice to his original report."

The DUP also welcomed the report, and Mr Robinson demanded that the BBC "apologise for its malicious comments" made about him.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "The key facts as laid out by the programme in relation to Iris and Peter Robinson do not appear to be disputed by the Assembly Commissioner for Standards' report. Spotlight did not allege that Peter Robinson had breached the members' code."

The spokeswoman said the BBC was satisfied that the Spotlight investigation raised legitimate, and important, issues of public interest.

"Our journalism was fair, robust and evidence-based," she added.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt described the report as "typical of the North Korean culture of tell-you-nothing" exercise.

Background

In 2008 Iris Robinson, then 59 and the First Minister's wife, was having an affair with Kirk McCambley, the 19-year-old son of a friend. She persuaded two property developers to lend or give Mr McCambley £25,000 each and he gave £5,000 of this to Mrs Robinson to use for "charitable purposes". Mrs Robinson was a Castlereagh councillor, MLA and MP at the time. In 2009 she announced she was leaving politics due to mental health issues. In 2010 BBC Spotlight revealed the background in a documentary.

Personal text messages, late night calls and bizarre redactions

Five key revelations from yesterday's inquiry release

1. PETER ROBINSON'S LETTER

Peter Robinson provides an insight into his wife's ill-health in a letter sent to the clerk of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Dated August 1 this year, it is written after he receives the final report from the Assembly Commissioner on what he terms the unfounded allegations against him in the Spotlight programme.

Mr Robinson states that "in view of the way Iris has been treated by, and in, the Press" he wants to express some views "as her husband".

"I have a perspective of these matters that is unique and allows me, though it has caused me profound pain, to understand the uncharacteristic behaviour that attended this period in Iris's life," he writes. "Iris has struggled, for the most part successfully, with mental health issues.

"The only lesson the report on Iris conveys is the sad, tragic and self-destructive behaviour of someone who was mentally ill and who, during such a period, acted entirely out of character."

He is particularly critical of Press reporting, describing it as "nasty, vindictive and heartless".

2. KIRK McCAMBLEY

Kirk McCambley was a young businessman who had a personal and business relationship with Iris Robinson. Mrs Robinson obtained £50,000 from two property developers in order to help the then 19-year-old secure a tender for a south Belfast cafe, the Lock Keeper's Inn.

One of the property developers agreed to provide money on condition that Mr McCambley gave £5,000 from the payment to Mrs Robinson to use for charitable purposes.

A briefing note of an interview carried out with Mr McCambley and interim Commissioner for Standards Tom Frawley is contained in yesterday's report.

The document, dated November 21, 2011, makes no reference to his affair with Mrs Robinson.

It describes how Mr McCambley first became aware of the business opportunity at the Lock Keeper's Cottage in spring 2008.

Mrs Robinson, who was a friend of the teenager's late father, also brought the venture to his attention.

He approached two banks for financial backing, but was turned down.

When he told her about the banks refusing finance, she offered to help, offering him £50,000.

Two cheques of £25,000 - one signed by Fred Fraser and the second by Ken Campbell - were made payable to him.

Mr McCambley confirmed he gave Mrs Robinson £5,000 in cash.

He said she told him the money was needed to "straighten out" her own financial situation.

3. SELWYN BLACK’S ROLE

Selwyn Black was Iris Robinson's political adviser between January 2008 and December 2009. He later turned whisleblower for the BBC's Spotlight documentary. The report contains a timeline of his period as Mrs Robinson's adviser, noting a number of bizarre events - including late-night calls and the loss of a mobile phone - in the run-up to the programme being broadcast.

According to the log, it was not until October 15, 2008 that Mr Black became aware of Mrs Robinson's interest in a cafe.

The following month he learnt that there had been a financial investment in the cafe. In June 2009, Mr Black announced his resignation after Iris Robinson was moved from chair of the Stormont health committee.

The same month, the log says he met an unnamed friend from university to discuss "issues of concern around what he is witnessing at Stormont". On October 21 Mr Black learned Mrs Robinson was present the night that Castlereagh Borough Council discussed the Lock Keeper's Inn. He feels "totally compromised" by the news. On November 14 and 15 he records a series of interviews with the BBC's Darragh MacIntyre.

The report discusses how Peter Robinson repeatedly attempted to contact Mr Black in December 2009. The log states that between December 14 and 23, Mr Black turned down "many calls" from Mr Robinson and his staff.

4. TEXT MESSAGES

More than 30 text messages sent by Iris Robinson to Selwyn Black are published. Just six are displayed in full. The others are fully or partially redacted.

One, sent on November 22 2008, states: "It seems cruel but I am not going to soften until he pays back the 45k and he has got till Christmas."

The sentences before and after are blanked out. The text is signed "Iris xxx".

Another, dated December 24 2008, states: "I need the cheque made out not in the name of the Church but to my name."

The following sentence is blacked out. In another lengthy text, sent on New Year's Day 2009, she states: "I would not (redacted) or be dishonest with money.

"I don't even claim monies I am due through expenses which I know can be inflated by many who r elected. I don't do it."

In a fourth text, dated 10.09pm on January 14, 2009, she forwards a message sent from her son, Gareth.

It states: "Mum the council agreed tonight to kirk mccambleys request re Lock keepers cottage to have his business partner named on the lease."

The remainder of the text, which is signed "G. x", is redacted.

5. REDACTIONS

A significant amount of details have been redacted from the published version.

Among them, bizarrely, is a transcript of the Spotlight programme which first brought the scandal to the public's attention. An interview with Peter Robinson by this newspaper's political editor Liam Clarke, then working for the Sunday Times, is also redacted.

The article, entitled "DUP in crisis: Liam Clarke interviews Peter Robinson", is available online to anyone through a simple Google search.

The report states: "In line with the committee's position on any report, the commissioner has redacted confidential and other personal information from the evidence he received where there is no prejudice to the public interest in knowing how a conclusion has been reached."

It adds: "The committee is satisfied that the redactions that it has made are necessary and proportionate and do not prevent readers of the report from fully understanding how both the commissioner and the committee reached their conclusions."

Liam Clarke:  Something seriously wrong with system of culpability

Further reading

MLA asks: Did Peter Robinson lobby for Iris's property backers?

Playgirl boss flies in to find Iris Robinson lover Kirk McCambley

Peter Robinson: Iris's affair left me desolate

Readers of gay mag Attitude to go wild for Kirk McCambley?

Iris Robinson scandal: Kirk McCambley 'replaced his late father in every sense'

Iris Robinson thrown out of DUP after Kirk McCambley revelations

Iris Robinson's lover, Kirk McCambley, becomes instant gay pin-up

Iris Robinson’s ‘gay cure’ adviser is reported to medical council

Police probe over Iris Robinson's gay remarks

Iris Robinson: gays more vile than child abusers

Gay lifestyle is 'abomination' not a mental disorder: Iris 

First Minister Peter Robinson backs wife's view that gays are an 'abomination'

Iris Robinson slammed for offering gay ‘cure’

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