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How Robinson’s annus horribilis ended with loss of the letters ‘MP’ after his name

It was this time last year that Peter Robinson first came under fire over Parliamentary expenses. He waved aside the controversies, no doubt confident that his trademark “attack as the best means of defence” approach would prove effective once again.

It did not quite work out like that. And, as it turned out, expenses were only the start of his difficulties. A nightmare annus horribilis was to unfold, culminating in the shock loss of his MP job this week.

Expenses were starting to make big headlines in UK politics 12 months ago.

Among the stories latched onto by London newspapers was the remuneration received from politics by Peter and Iris Robinson. It was calculated that their combined pay and expenses totals from their Stormont and Westminster jobs came to over £500,000 a year.

These sums included the wages of their staff teams — although critics pointed out that their employees included all three of their children, plus a daughter-in-law.

Further revelations came to light, including payments received by the MP couple for food expenses in London.

They routinely claimed the £400 per month maximum sum each, adding up to some £30,000 over a four-year period.

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Mr Robinson commented: “I think if MPs slept on a park bench and starved themselves that would still be too much for some people.”

Expenses became an issue on the doorstep in the European election campaign, and were one of the factors cited for a slump in the DUP's vote.

That poor performance was not a good way to end Mr Robinson's first 12 months as party leader.

Yet by the autumn, things seemed to moving his way again. A confident speech to the DUP's annual conference underlined the image of a party fighting back.

However, the next phase of the annus horribilis was approaching.

A BBC Spotlight investigation revealed that Mrs Robinson had had an affair with a teenager — and obtained £50,000 from two property developers to bankroll her young lover's café business.

One of the businessmen was the late Fred Fraser, the dominant developer in the Robinson heartland of Castlereagh.

A subsequent BBC report, detailing a £5 land deal between Mr Robinson and Mr Fraser, infuriated the First Minister.

He responded by giving a bad-tempered TV interview that ensured the story took on new life.

It was hardly an ideal backdrop for the start of a General Election campaign.

As the push for votes got under way, canvassers from rival parties reported a strong anti-Robinson mood on many doorsteps. Alliance talked up Naomi Long's hopes and some commentators speculated about the DUP leader's vote being squeezed. That was as far as the predictions went. It was still regarded as a safe seat.

But then in the first hour of May 7 informed rumours from the count started to circulate.

And suddenly the Alliance deputy leader was celebrating — and being congratulated by an ashen-faced Mr Robinson.

After 31 years, he can no longer put “MP” after his name.


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