Northern Ireland news

DUP's Edwin Poots wrote to Attorney General about son's driving case

DUP MLA Edwin Poots with his son, former party councillor Luke Poots. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Brendan Hughes

THERE have been calls for full disclosure after a DUP MLA wrote to the Attorney General about his son's driving case.

Edwin Poots contacted the Stormont executive's chief legal adviser about the case involving former DUP councillor Luke Poots.

Political opponents have described the move as "highly irregular" and called for the correspondence to be released.

However, the DUP insisted the contact was warranted as Mr Poots was raising concerns about leaks to the media.

The MLA sought assurances from the Attorney General that his son would be "treated no differently than any other citizen", a party spokesman said.

Luke Poots, who works in his father's Lagan Valley constituency office, was accused of driving a vehicle dangerously on Grosvenor Road in Belfast in December 2017.

The 31-year-old denied the charge, but was convicted of a lesser offence of driving without due care and attention.

He was fined £500 and given five penalty points when the case concluded at Belfast Magistrates Court on Monday following numerous delays.

Edwin Poots, who became Stormont environment minister in January, wrote in October 2018 to then Attorney General John Larkin about his son's case.

The Attorney General's office confirmed the existence of the correspondence in Freedom of Information responses to The Irish News.

It confirmed the letter was signed by Mr Poots, but was not on MLA or constituency office-headed paper and the return contact address was not for his constituency office.

The correspondence was subsequently passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley, the party's justice spokesperson, said the matter appeared to be "highly irregular".

"The Attorney General is the guardian of the rule of law in Northern Ireland, not a personal legal consultant for elected representatives," she said.

"Given Mr Poots's elevation to ministerial office, it's important that the public is assured that this correspondence was entirely appropriate.

"The easiest way to do that is to disclose the contents of all communications on this matter."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said it "certainly appears to be a strange move by Edwin Poots to contact the Attorney General's office over what was a relatively minor driving offence".

"Given Edwin Poots's current position in holding public office and now the case is over, it is clearly in the public interest for the Attorney General's office to release details of the correspondence from him, particularly as it was then passed to the Public Prosecution Service," he said.

The DUP said Mr Poots contacted the Attorney General due to concerns that information was being leaked to the press.

A party spokesman said: "Mr Poots contacted the Attorney General after Luke Poots learned of the charge through the media before any papers were served on him or his legal team.

"Indeed, key witnesses had not even been interviewed. Such leaks were entirely inappropriate and warranted investigation. It was important that Northern Ireland's chief law officer was aware of such unfair behaviour.

"Luke Poots should have been treated no differently than any other citizen. An assurance was sought through the Attorney General that that would be the case."

Mr Larkin stood down as Attorney General in June after serving in the post for 10 years, and Brenda King took on the role in August.

The Attorney General's office declined to issue a comment. However, a spokeswoman said they hoped to be in a position to release the correspondence in the coming days.

The driving charge was first listed in court in May 2018. It took 25 court hearings before the case concluded this week.

A PPS spokesman said: "We have identified no delays on the part of the PPS in this case. Adjournments were granted primarily at the request of defence and are a matter for the court to adjudicate on."

Luke Poots did not stand for re-election to Lisburn and Castlereagh council last year, saying that "opportunities have arisen for me outside politics".

In 2018 it emerged he was under investigation by a council standards watchdog over an alleged conflict of interest for voting in favour of planning decisions lobbied for by his father.

The councillor insisted he had "done everything by the book", but announced he would no longer take part in committee decisions when his father made representations.

In 2014, Luke Poots faced criticism for attending a loyalist parade in south Belfast honouring UDA men linked to numerous sectarian murders during the Troubles.

Loyalist paramilitary regalia was displayed during the parade held on the anniversary of the IRA killing of Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, who were linked to the 1992 murder of five Catholics at an Ormeau Road bookmakers.

At the time he said he strayed into the commemoration after happening upon it while returning from a church service.

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