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Stormont speaker Robin Newton accused of misleading assembly over ties to UDA-linked Charter NI

Alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt (left) and assembly speaker Robin Newton 

PRESSURE was last night growing on Stormont speaker Robin Newton after it was claimed he misled the assembly about the extent of his association with a UDA-linked community organisation.

Charter NI, which was awarded management of £1.7m of public money for an employability project, is headed up by alleged UDA 'commander' Dee Stitt.

Mr Newton, who is still being paid £87,000-a-year as speaker and MLA despite the assembly not sitting, previously told MLAs that while he offered advice to Charter NI as part of his role as an elected representative he was not an "advisor" to the east Belfast group.

However, a BBC Spotlight investigation into the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF) has claimed documents dating back several years show he attended board meetings, helped head-hunt board members and lobbied funders on behalf of the organisation, which repeatedly refers to him in minutes as an advisor.

DUP councillor Sharon Skillen, alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt, DUP leader Arlene Foster, and former Charter NI chairman Drew Haire along with project manager Caroline Birch

One set of minutes says that he helped to "steer" the board and did "more than just go to the board meetings".

The Irish News previously reported how Mr Newton lobbied for money for Charter NI just weeks before refusing an urgent assembly question by the SDLPs Nichola Mallon about its funding.

He apologised to assembly members for not delegating the decision given his links to the group.

Speaking last night, the SDLP deputy leader said; "It is clear from the documentation unearthed by Spotlight that Mr Newton failed to declare to the assembly and public the full extent of his role with Charter NI when he ruled against my urgent oral question on the funding of public money to this organisation from being heard and answered."

The DUP did not respond to request for a comment last night, but Mr Newton told Spotlight in a statement that he has worked with and offered advice to all sections of the east Belfast community, including community organisations, and some of his contacts have been formal, stronger or longer than others.

It has been claimed that the DUP used the Social Investment Fund, administered by the Executive Office, to help attract votes from hardline loyalist communities.

The BBC put this question to former leader Peter Robinson, said to be the architect of the fund, who responding by saying "Catch yourself on", adding that most political parties had held meetings with former paramilitary leaders at some stage.

In a statement to Spotlight, the Executive Office said: "Appropriate governance procedures are in place to ensure the programme is delivered and managed effectively."

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