Charter NI continued to receive public money after fire destroyed audit files

Dee Stitt has refused to step down as CEO of Charter NI
Dee Stitt has refused to step down as CEO of Charter NI Dee Stitt has refused to step down as CEO of Charter NI

CHARTER NI continued to receive funding from public bodies despite a serious discrepancy in end of year accounts after a fire destroyed audit files.

SDLP assembly member Claire Hanna last night repeated calls for an Audit Office investigation after it emerged the east Belfast community group submitted incomplete figures for the year ending March 2013.

Charter NI, currently headed up by leading loyalist Dee Stitt, has been at the centre of controversy in recent months since being allocated £1.7m from the Executive's Social Investment Fund (SIF).

Chief Constable George Hamilton confirmed this week that "an individual or individuals connected to (Charter NI) continue to be associated with paramilitarism".

The DUP has insisted a robust system of checks and balances is followed before money is allocated.

However, document seen by the Irish News shows that a hole in Charter NI's accounts led to a "qualified opinion" being given by an independent auditor for the year ending March 31 2013.

It says: "We were unable to fully verify the opening balances due to the fact that the previous accountant had lost his audit files in a fire.

"During the year the accounting records were in a period of transition due to a complete changeover of staff, this deficiency has now been fully rectified."

The change of staff is thought to refer to Charter NI founding member and former Ulster Political Research Group member Frankie Gallagher, who resigned as a board member in March 2013.

Mr Gallagher left Northern Ireland for a new life with his family in Australia and later resigned from the organisation he had helped establish.

Despite the gaps in the 2012/13 accounts caused by the fire, the group received 'good relations' funding in 2014 from Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and from Belfast City Council.

Ms Hanna said it "seems improper that public bodies continued to fund an organisation that were unable to provide audited financial statements".

"We've been told there is proper financial scrutiny of all SIF projects but that is clearly not the case with Charter NI.

"We believe this highlights why there needs to be an independent assessment carried out by the audit office of SIF in order to restore public confidence."

Meanwhile, concern has also been expressed after a document leaked to the BBC Spotlight team revealed that the £80m Social Investment Fund is projected to run £13.1m over budget.