Probe after Belfast Council's recording machine vanishes
Expensive audio equipment which is used to record council meetings has gone missing at Belfast City Hall, it can be revealed.
All six party leaders in the council have been informed and an investigation is under way.
The Belfast Telegraph understands the equipment is worth about £700 but the police are not believed to be involved at this stage.
Efforts are being made to source a replacement machine, but it may take some time and there are concerns that it will not be available for the planning committee meeting on June 20.
As it stands there are no audio recordings of the people and communities meeting or city growth and regeneration meeting, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council confirmed that the equipment is missing but said she couldn't provide further comment due to the ongoing probe. An insider told this newspaper there were fears that there were sinister forces at work.
"This is a very serious matter because the council decided that all meetings should be recorded so that members of the public can get a copy of them if they want to," said the source.
"One day the equipment was there and the next minute it had disappeared.
"No-one seems to know what happened or how somebody managed to remove it without being seen.
"We're just hoping that good conscience will kick in and the person who took it will leave it back where it belongs.
"In the meantime, it's the public who lose out."
There was anger and embarrassment last year when a Chinese tourist's handbag was stolen at City Hall.
The woman, who was accompanied by friends, was being photographed on the stairs when the distressing incident - which is thought to be a first - occurred.
Eyewitnesses reported that the handbag belonging to the woman, who was in her early 30s, was taken by a man who was seen fleeing through the front entrance of City Hall.
The woman and her friends were presented with civic gifts following the theft.
A centrepiece on Belfast's skyline, the City Hall dates back to 1898 and is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, as Belfast remains on course to reach a milestone 10 million visitors annually.
A £1bn investment in infrastructure in the last 15 years is paying big dividends - hotel room sales are up by a third and more than 100 cruise ships are docking every year, compared with just two 18 years ago.