Iris Robinson probe report 'clears Castlereagh council'

The report said Mrs Robinson was not in a meeting about the awarding of a lease to Mr McCambley

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Iris Robinson, wife of NI First Minister Peter Robinson, has been cleared over the awarding of a council contract to her lover.

The probe by consultants Deloitte was commissioned following a BBC NI Spotlight and Panorama investigation.

The programme revealed that she helped her teenage lover open a business with money from two developers.

It also alleged that Mrs Robinson had failed to declare her interest when the council agreed to award a lease to him.

The programme examined the awarding of a lease to Kirk McCambley.

The Deloitte report cleared all councillors and officials at Castlereagh Borough Council of breaching government legislation.

Councillor Jimmy Spratt, DUP group leader on the council, said he believed the report exonerated everyone involved.

The awarding of the Lock Keeper's Inn lease was decided at a meeting in August 2008.

The report said that while Mrs Robinson was in the council chamber during the course of the meeting, she was not there when the terms of the lease were discussed.

"That has been very clearly established through security records of people leaving the building," said Mr Spratt.

"She wasn't in the meeting at all. After the planning session she gathered up her papers and left the building.

"I had a conversation with her outside the door in the foyer. I saw her leave the building and she never returned to the building."

Mrs Robinson resigned from her positions as an MP and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly before the programme was broadcast in January 2010.

'Railroaded'

However, Alliance councillor Michael Long said he felt the council were given insufficient time to debate the 35-page report.

He said his party felt "railroaded" into making a decision and they abstained in the vote.

"The report was tabled and we were given a minute to read it," he said.

"We were then told that there would be a vote in terms of accepting the report and its recommendation.

Kirk McCambley outside the Lock Keeper's Inn Kirk McCambley outside the Lock Keeper's Inn

"We hadn't had a chance to read a 35-page report and we were expected to support recommendations without having read them.

"I'm sure most of them are absolutely fine, and indeed we would like to see improved procedures. We want to see more openness and transparency in the council.

"But I think it would be at least sensible for councillors to have been given time to read the recommendations and the report."

Deloitte were asked to investigate the role of those officials and councillors directly involved in the leasing of the Lock Keepers Inn to Kirk McCambley.

BBC NI's political reporter Stephen Walker said the report did acknowledge the current guidance on conflict of interest lacked clarity.

"It interestingly recommends a mandatory code of conduct and councillors are given training on conflicts of interests," he said.

"It also states that standing orders have been changed at Castlereagh Council. Councillors are required to declare any interests at the start of meetings and declare any conflicts as the meeting progresses."

In May, Castlereagh Borough Council said the draft report by Deloitte concluded that there was no evidence of financial loss to the council.

The council said the investigation had also concluded that there was no impropriety by council officers or members directly involved in the awarding of the lease.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said it stood by its journalism and believed the Spotlight investigation was of "significant public interest" and was "well sourced".

"The BBC conducts its investigations in compliance with strict editorial guidelines. This programme was a piece of responsible journalism and a matter of public importance."

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