Northern Ireland news

People connected to Charter NI 'have recently engaged in UDA activity', police say

Dee Stitt is the chief executive of Charter NI

A SENIOR police officer has said he believes people connected to the controversial Charter NI project have been recently involved in paramilitary activity.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said there are "people connected to Charter who are connected to the UDA".

Charter NI is a publicly funded charity working in east Belfast whose chief executive is UDA commander Dee Stitt. There have been calls for his resignation and renewed calls for funding to be suspended.

Charter NI has received £1.7m from the £80m Social Investment Fund.

Speaking on the BBC's Stephen Nolan show, ACC Martin would not comment on any individual and said the organisation does "good and meaningful work on the ground".

Asked whether the people involved with Charter NI who had UDA connections were active members of the proscribed organisation the senior officer said: "I would believe certainly that there may be an individual or individuals connected to Charter who have certainly been recently active".

He added: "There are people who will have been members for a long time who keep their head down and have no active role in it other than they're members and there will be people who are involved in crime at the other end and there will be a different blurring of membership in that spectrum."

The Charter NI office in east Belfast

Charter NI said it is urgently seeking a meeting with police and would "take whatever action we deem necessary as a result of the information provided at that meeting".

ACC Martin's comments had "come as a surprise", it added.

In a statement it said: "The consistent position of the board of Charter NI is that we do not condone illegal or criminal activity of any kind. We reaffirm our support for any prosecution brought by the PSNI of any person were there is evidence of involvement in illegal activity.

"The comments made by the ACC come as a surprise to us particularly as we have regular involvement with PSNI officers in a number of our projects who have given no indication of concerns about current paramilitary activity by an individual or individuals connected with Charter NI."

The first and deputy first ministers said ACC Martin had made "not an insignificant comment" and they too sought clarification from police.

"Where there is evidence of criminal activity we expect the police to investigate and bring those before the courts. Courts and jail are the only place for people involved in paramilitarism.

"All those associated with Charter or any community enterprise must make a clear choice between paramilitarism and legitimate community work.

"There can be no acceptance of, or ambivalence towards illegal activity."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the police analysis must be taken seriously and described the development as "the tipping point".

"The Assistant Chief Constable couldn't be any clearer with his assessment and the penny seems to have finally dropped with the Executive.

"Given the assessment of the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, the Executive Office should move to suspend funding to Charter NI."

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