Northern Ireland news

DUP's Edwin Poots was passenger when son stopped for careless driving

The DUP's Edwin Poots, and inset, how The Irish News revealed he wrote to the Attorney General about his son's driving case
Brendan Hughes

THE DUP's Edwin Poots was a passenger in the vehicle when his son was stopped by police for careless driving.

Mr Poots wrote to the Attorney General accusing police or prosecutors of leaking the incident to the media to cause "maximum embarrassment".

The senior politician also appeared to suggest that he and his son, former DUP councillor Luke Poots, may have feared a security threat when it occurred.

"An attempted murder on my own father happened a short distance from the location," the MLA wrote.

"I myself have had police call with me on four separate occasions to relay death threats.

"At no point has anyone sought to identify if there was reason for concern for our safety."

Mr Poots said he and his son wanted to be treated the same as anyone else, and asked the Attorney General to ensure "fairness is applied".

Read More: DUP's Edwin Poots no stranger to controversy

The letter was released following calls for full disclosure after The Irish News first revealed earlier this month that Mr Poots had written to the Attorney General about his son facing a driving charge.

MLAs had described it as "highly irregular" writing to Stormont's chief legal adviser about a driving case.

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

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 last month 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.

He wrote: "I was a passenger in the vehicle. That is evident in the report brought by the police officer who without any necessity highlights that he recognised me as a high-profile politician.

"Not only did he fail to interview me as a key witness, after softly speaking six words he told me in no uncertain terms he didn't want to hear from me.

"It would appear the PPS [Public Prosecution Service] don't believe there is any value in interviewing a witness before proceeding to prosecution.

"I believe the reason for the unnecessary insertion about high-profile politician was to profile the case."

The MLA added: "To compound this the media were informed that the case was coming to court prior to it being listed on the court schedule. The DUP press office was contacted by media and can confirm.

"This could only have been leaked either by the police or PPS, but gives me serious concern that a concerted effort is being made to cause maximum embarrassment."

The Irish News had revealed Luke's driving charge the day before he was due in court.

At the time, court lists were available to the media seven days in advance, and this has since been extended to 14 days.

Mr Poots's letter continued: "An attempted murder on my own father happened a short distance from the location.

"I myself have had police call with me on four separate occasions to relay death threats.

"At no point has anyone sought to identify if there was reason for concern for our safety.

"I have no expectation that my son and I should be treated better than anyone else. Neither should we be treated less well. I believe the latter is the case and ask for your attention in ensuring fairness is applied.

"We are also meeting representatives from the Police Ombudsman's office on this matter."

In a written response following an earlier phone call, Mr Larkin told Mr Poots he was asking the head of the PPS to examine the matter.

He wrote: "I have today written to the Director of Public Prosecutions enclosing a copy of your letter to me and have asked him to examine the matter personally or by his deputy so that he can be appropriately satisfied with the PPS handling of the matter.

"As I explained yesterday I have confidence in the integrity and capacity of the director and deputy director, and while their undoubted integrity and capacity do not mean that any examination will lead to an outcome that you personally might regard as favourable, it would, I think, be a significant reassurance that the case had been looked at in this way."

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

The PPS said adjournments were granted "primarily at the request of defence and are a matter for the court to adjudicate on".

Mr Poots's letter to Mr Larkin was not on MLA or constituency office-headed paper.

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

The DUP has defended Mr Poots's correspondence, saying it was "important that Northern Ireland's chief law officer was aware of such unfair behaviour".

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