Northern Ireland

Ex-NI Water chief convicted of embezzling in 1982

Laurence MacKenzie
Image caption Laurence MacKenzie resigned from his role as head of NI Water last week.

The former head of NI Water was convicted of embezzling £2,000 from a church in his native Scotland in 1982.

Laurence MacKenzie resigned last week after NI Water was severely criticised for its handling of the water crisis.

The details emerged after SDLP MP Alisdair McDonnell asked Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy to confirm whether he had prior knowledge of his spent criminal conviction.

NI Water have refused to comment.

Mr McDonnell said questions need to be answered following the revelation.

Mr Murphy has yet to comment on the issue but a Department for Regional Development spokesperson said:

"The Minister was not aware of this issue until it broke in the media today. He is advised by NI Water, as the employer, that it is currently looking into the matter."

It emerged that Mr MacKenzie stole from his congregation while a treasurer in a Church of Scotland church in Caithness in the north of the country.

Subsequent to his conviction, Mr MacKenzie studied accountancy at the University of Abertay before a career in privatised utilities eventually saw him in charge at Northern Ireland Electricity and most recently NI Water.

Last March Mr MacKenzie ordered an internal probe into a number of contracts which he believed had not been competitively tendered.

When the review confirmed his fears, Mr MacKenzie was said to be so perturbed by events that he he tendered his resignation, only to later withdraw it.

Following the report, the Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy moved to sack four members of the NI Water board, including the chairman Chris Mellor.

In December 40,000 homes and businesses were cut off from the mains during the recent crisis which happened after a rapid thaw caused pipes to burst across Northern Ireland.

NI Water was heavily criticised for its response, answering only a small proportion of the public's requests for help.

Following his resignation, Mr MacKenzie said his staff had made "tremendous efforts" but added that he "believed firmly in the principles of responsibility and accountability".

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