Belfast Telegraph

Sex pest councillor who swindled church hall cash faces new burglary charge

By Paul Higgins

A disgraced Co Down councillor, who faces up to a year in jail after he admitted sexually assaulting a woman, was yesterday charged with burglary at a neighbour's property.

Newry, Mourne and Down independent councillor, Patrick Joseph Clarke, had been scheduled to be sentenced for sexual assault at Downpatrick Magistrates Court yesterday but that was adjourned to allow the defence and prosecution to consider the imposition of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

In a new and separate case, 41-year-old Clarke, from Mill Hill Court in Castlewellan, was charged with burglary at a neighbour's apartment with intent to cause unlawful damage, causing criminal damage to a mug which belonged to Raymond Fitzpatrick and possessing a hammer with intent to commit burglary, all alleged to have occurred on September 5 this year.

A police constable told the court he believed he could connect Clarke to the offences while lawyers for the prosecution and defence told Deputy District Judge Paul Conway the complainant had made a withdrawal statement.

Asking for the case to be adjourned until October 29, the PPS lawyer said that a new statement would be considered and Clarke was released on continuing bail until then.

Last month Clarke pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman on December 23 last year.

Following the guilty plea, a prosecuting lawyer said Clarke would not be prosecuted on a second similar charge against the same victim on the same date.

Last June at the same court, Clarke, a former Alliance Party councillor, admitted he had swindled almost £2,000 from a community regeneration scheme but escaped being sent to jail, and instead was handed a probation and community service combination order.

District Judge Alan White told Clarke, who was sacked from the Alliance Party and now sits as an independent councillor, the series of frauds were aggravated because they had been committed over a prolonged period against a public organisation, thereby "causing loss to the community" but that he was giving him credit for pleading guilty and his clear criminal record.

Earlier a prosecuting lawyer described how Clarke had been made chairman of the Drumaroad Community Regeneration limited company whose purpose was to raise funds to finance the rebuilding of a local church hall.

As such, Clarke took control of the various documents and chequebooks "for safe keeping" but in November 2012 a fellow director discovered there was no money in the account.

Police who investigated found that nine cheques had been forged and the signatures of other directors had been forged by Clarke said the lawyer, adding that in total the politician had swindled £1,964.

Arrested and interviewed, Clarke initially denied doing anything wrong, but during later questioning, made "full admissions" to what he had done.

Defence barrister Niamh McCartney said Clarke had already repaid £1,000 and that a similar amount was being held by the solicitors to repay the swindled monies in full.

She said he had used the money to "pay for rent and other personal items," adding that he had been overindulging in alcohol.

"Actions which had left Clarke "very remorseful and regretful," she said.

Belfast Telegraph


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