Northern Ireland news

Councillor faces jail after admitting sexual assault

Patrick Joseph Clarke pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his victim on December 23 last year

A DISGRACED Co Down councillor faces up to a year in jail after he admitted sexual assaulting a woman.

The case against Newry and Mourne Independent councillor Patrick Joseph Clarke had been scheduled at Downpatrick Magistrates Court to fix a date for his contest but instead, the charge was put to him again and he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his victim on December 23 last year.

Following the guilty plea, a prosecuting lawyer said 40-year-old Clarke would not be prosecuted on a second similar charge against the same victim on the same date.

No facts surrounding the sex attack were opened in court and defence barrister Niamh McCartney asked for Clarke to be released on continuing bail pending sentence.

Granting the application and ordering that a pre-sentence probation report be completed, District Judge Peter King told Clarke to come back to court on October 12 for sentencing.

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

Ordering Clarke to spend a year on probation and complete 100 hours of community service, District Judge Alan White told the disgraced councillor his offences "crosses the custody threshold, be in no doubt about that."

He 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 from the community organisation.

Police searched Clarke's home and officers who seized various financial documents and chequebooks discovered that in addition to forging the cheques, Clarke had created false invoices in an effort to cover up the frauds.

Arrested and interviewed Clarke initially denied doing anything wrong but eventually pleading guilty to eight charges of committing fraud on dates between 30 May and 16 August 2010.

Ms McCartney said Clarke "saw an opportunity and he took it". She said he had used the money to "pay for rent and other personal items," adding that at the time, he had been overindulging in alcohol.

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