Belfast Telegraph

Make a choice between paramilitarism and community work, Foster and McGuinness warn over Social Investment Fund controversy

Some people connected to Charter NI involved in recent paramilitary activity, claim police

By Jonathan Bell

The First and deputy First Minsters have warned those community workers tied to paramilitary gangs to chose between crime or genuine community work.

It comes as police said individuals connected to Charter NI - the group headed by UDA boss Dee Stitt - are engaged in recent paramilitary activity.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin - while not identifying any individual - made the admission on the BBC Stephen Nolan Show.

Charter NI said the comments were a surprise as it worked with police regularly and said it was seeking an urgent meeting with officers. It said it did not condone illegal or criminal activity of any kind.

Mr Martin told the BBC: "There are people connected to the UDA who are in Charter NI.

"I would also say that Charter NI does do good and meaning work on the ground.

"But clearly there are connections in that organisation to the UDA."

When asked if he would dispute that Dee Stitt was a UDA leader, Mr Martin refused to answer a question about individuals.

Asked if he believed there were people in the ex-prisoners' organisation which were involved in paramilitary activity, the senior police officer responded: "There maybe an individual or individuals connected to Charter NI who are engaged in recent paramilitary activity."

Mr Martin said he believed that activity to have occurred as recently as in the past year.

When asked why there had no been arrested, Mr Martin said there had been and that police worked to gather evidence on a daily basis to put an end to paramilitary activity. He stressed the "high level" of evidence needed before contemplating criminal activity.

In response Charter NI said it was seeking an urgent meeting with police to clarify the details.

A statement said: "The consistent position of the Board of Charter NI is that we do not condone illegal or criminal activity of any kind. We reaffirm our support for any prosecution brought by the PSNI of any person were there is evidence of involvement in illegal activity.

"The comments made by the ACC come as a surprise to us particularly as we have regular involvement with PSNI officers in a number of our projects who have given no indication of concerns about current paramilitary activity by an individual or individuals connected with Charter NI.

"We will, as a Board, seek an urgent meeting with the PSNI to discuss the part of the ACC’s interview that relates to Charter NI, and take whatever action we deem necessary as a result of the information provided at that meeting."

In response, the Executive Office said: "This is not an insignificant comment from Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin.

"We will be in contact with PSNI to seek further clarification.

"Where there is evidence of criminal activity we expect the police to investigate and bring those before the courts.

"Courts and jail are the only place for people involved in paramilitarism.

"All those associated with Charter or any community enterprise must make a clear choice between paramilitarism and legitimate community work.

"There can be no acceptance of, or ambivalence towards illegal activity."

Controversy erupted after Charter NI was awarded £1.7million in public funds from the Social Investment Fund. Its chief executive Dee Stitt who has admitted to being a leader of the UDA then featured in an interview with The Guardian in which he described his North Down Defenders flute band as "homeland security" protecting his territory "from anybody".

He apologised for the comments and received a final written warning from the Charter NI board.

Mr Stitt has said his paramilitary involvements, are his past.


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