Session: 2014/2015

Date: 26 November 2014

Reference: NIA 191/11-16

ISBN: 978-0-339-60546-6

Mandate Number: 2011/16

Spotlight_Robinson.pdf (12.83 mb)

Introduction

1. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has considered a report from the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards (“the Commissioner”) on the investigation into the allegations made in the BBC Spotlight Programme of 7 January 2010. A copy of the Commissioner’s report is included at Appendix 1.

Background to the investigation

2. On 7 January 2010 the BBC broadcasted an episode of its Spotlight programme which made a number of allegations about the then MLA Mrs Iris Robinson and Mr Peter Robinson MLA. The allegations were informed by disclosures made by Dr Selwyn Black, a former employee of Mrs Robinson. At the centre of these was the allegation that Mrs Robinson had obtained substantial sums of money from two property developers and had given the money to a young man named Kirk McCambley. The relevant allegations are considered further below and in the Commissioner’s report.

3. As some of the allegations related to Mrs and Mr Robinson’s respective roles as MLAs, the Committee on Standards and Privileges met on 11 January 2010 to consider the matter. At that meeting the Committee noted correspondence from Mr Robinson which requested that the Committee commence an inquiry into the questions raised in the programme. The Committee also noted correspondence from Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA which requested that an investigation be carried out. Copies of both items of correspondence are included at Appendix 2.

4. The Committee agreed to write to Dr Tom Frawley, the then interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards (“the interim Commissioner”), requesting him to carry out an investigation into the conduct of Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson. This letter, which is included at document 1 of Annex D of the Commissioner’s report, referred the matter under the then standing order 69A(1)(b) and asked the interim Commissioner:

“…to carry out a thorough investigation into the conduct of Mrs Iris Robinson MLA and Mr Peter Robinson MLA in order to enable the Committee to determine whether or not any breaches of the Assembly’s Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members have occurred”.

5. The investigation transferred from the interim Commissioner to the Commissioner (Mr Douglas Bain) on 17 September 2012. He submitted the final report on the investigation on 3 July 2014. A timeline setting out the key milestones during the period from the Committee’s referral until the submission of the report is included at annex A. Significant periods of time are accounted for by the suspension of the investigation from January 2010 to June 2011 to allow for the consideration of the matter by the PSNI; the transfer of the investigation from the interim Commissioner to the Commissioner on 17 September 2012; the ongoing ill-health of Mrs Robinson and her consequent unavailability for interview; and the consideration by the Commissioner of the various representations made by Mrs Robinson’s solicitor in relation to the content of earlier versions of his report.

6. Both the interim and current Commissioner made a number of unsuccessful attempts to arrange to interview Mrs Robinson. Then, in January 2013, medical advice was provided to the Commissioner which concluded that were Mrs Robinson to participate in the proposed interview it would have a serious adverse impact on her health. The Commissioner therefore decided to complete the investigation without the benefit of interviewing her.

7. The Commissioner initially submitted a report on his investigation in November 2013 but withdrew it in February 2014 following representations from Mrs Robinson’s solicitor. A revised report was submitted on 31 March 2014 but it too was withdrawn by the Commissioner, this time following receipt of pre-action correspondence from Mrs Robinson’s solicitor. The Commissioner submitted the final version of his report on 3 July 2014 at which point he confirmed that this report would not be revised further, save by order of the Court. The Commissioner sets out more detail in relation to these exchanges in paragraphs 15 and 16 of his report.

8. It is highly regrettable that the Assembly should have had to wait so long for the conclusion of this investigation. However, the Committee acknowledges the varied and exceptional circumstances which prolonged it.

The allegations made in the Spotlight programme

9. The Commissioner identified thirteen allegations contained within the Spotlight programme in relation to the conduct of Mr and Mrs Robinson. These thirteen allegations are set out in paragraph three of his report. Ten of these allegations related to Mrs Robinson and three related to Mr Robinson.

10. Of the ten allegations in relation to Mrs Robinson, the Commissioner has identified six which, if proved, could either constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct, or could have a bearing on these matters. The Commissioner has concluded that the other four allegations related to Mrs Robinson’s then role either as a councillor or an MP and therefore that these allegations fell outside the scope of the Code of Conduct. Further detail on the Commissioner’s assessment of the admissibility of the ten allegations in relation to Mrs Robinson is included at paragraphs 19 to 28 of his report.

11. The Committee has redacted references within the Commissioner’s report in relation to one of these allegations. Further information in relation to redactions made to the Commissioner’s report by the Committee is included at paragraphs 68 to 71 of this report.

12. The remaining five relevant allegations in relation to Mrs Robinson were as follows:

Allegation 2 – That in summer 2008 Mrs Robinson obtained £25k from each of two property developers, Fred Fraser and Ken Campbell, and gave the money to Kirk McCambley;

Allegation 3 – That Mrs Robinson required Kirk McCambley to pay her £5k in cash out of the £50,000 he had received;

Allegation 7 – That Mrs Robinson failed to report to the Electoral Commission her receipt of either of the two sums of £25k;

Allegation 9 – That Mrs Robinson failed to register in the Northern Ireland Assembly Register of Members’ Interests her receipt of either of the two sums of £25k; and

Allegation 10 – That in the summer of 2008 Mrs Robinson lobbied on behalf of one of the property developers, Kenneth Campbell, in support of a proposed development in Newtownards in which he had a major interest.

13. The Commissioner has concluded that none of the three allegations against Mr Robinson could, even if established after investigation, constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct. Accordingly, the Commissioner has not given these allegations further consideration as part of the investigation.

14. The Commissioner’s analysis of why these allegations were not admissible is set out from paragraph 29 to 58 of his report. The Committee has redacted references within the Commissioner’s report to the first of the three allegations (Allegation 11). The Commissioner had pointed out that this particular allegation related to Mr Robinson’s private and family life and had no connection with his conduct as a Member. The Committee agreed with the Commissioner that this allegation was therefore outside the scope of the Code of Conduct.

15. The second allegation (Allegation 12) is that as First Minister Mr Robinson contravened the Ministerial Code of Conduct in that, having become aware of the alleged receipt of the two sums of £25,000 by his wife, he failed to inform the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Assembly, Castlereagh Borough Council and the Electoral Commission. The Commissioner has considered this allegation insofar as it relates to the provisions of the Assembly’s Code of Conduct. The allegation under consideration was therefore that Mr Robinson failed in his duty to register in the Register of Members’ Interests any benefits received by Mrs Robinson.

16. The Commissioner points out that the Code only provides for Members to register those benefits received by their partner “which in any way relate to membership of the Assembly (including those received in a Ministerial capacity) or to a member’s political activity”. Lest there be any uncertainty about the interpretation of this requirement, the Commissioner points out that the Members’ Interests Registration Form (approved by the Committee on Standards and Privileges on 30 September 2009) provides, in respect of the categories containing the ‘partner provision’, for the registration by a Member of benefits received by a partner-

‘which in any way relate to your (his emphasis) membership of the Assembly’.

17. The Commissioner has therefore concluded that Mr Robinson had no duty to register any benefits received by Mrs Robinson, even if he knew of them and believed that they were connected with her membership of the Assembly or her political activities. The Commissioner goes on to say that Mr Robinson would, of course, have been under a duty to register benefits received by his wife connected with his own membership or political activities but that there is no evidence of any such benefits in this case. The Commissioner’s full analysis of this issue is set out from paragraphs 30 to 44 of his report.

18. The final allegation (Allegation 13) is that Mr Robinson failed to tell the proper authorities that his wife had broken the law by (a) failing to declare her financial interest in a public contract; and (b) by accepting £50,000 from two property developers and failing to declare it. The Commissioner points out, however, that there is no express provision in the Code of Conduct imposing on Members a duty to inform the Assembly of breaches of the law by other Members. His full analysis of this issue is set out from paragraphs 45 to 58 of his report.

The Commissioner’s investigation

19. As part of the investigation Kirk McCambley, Selwyn Black, Ken Campbell, Peter Robinson and various officials were interviewed. Notes of each of these meetings are included in Annex D of the Commissioner’s report. The other documents and evidence obtained in the course of the Commissioner’s investigation and used by him in his consideration of the matter are also listed at Annex D.

20. As mentioned above the Commissioner did not interview Mrs Robinson. However, her solicitor did correspond with the Commissioner on Mrs Robinson’s behalf.

21. The Commissioner sets out at paragraph 62 of his report thirty nine findings of fact which he has established as a result of the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation. The Committee has redacted a number of these findings of fact. Again, further information in relation to redactions made to the Commissioner’s report by the Committee is included at paragraphs 68 to 71 of this report.

22. Included amongst the findings of fact by the Commissioner are the following facts in relation to the relationship between Mrs Robinson and the two developers who made the payments (Mr Fraser and Mr Campbell):

6.         Mrs Robinson and her husband had both been friends of the late Mr Fred Fraser and Mr Ken Campbell for more than 30 years prior to 2008.

7.         Both these individuals were well known as property developers particularly in North Down.

8.         Both had supported charitable causes in which Mrs Robinson had been involved.

9.         In common with other developers, both Mr Fraser and Mr Campbell were accustomed to seeking the support of councillors, including Mrs Robinson, for their developments. Only when she considered it appropriate did she give that support.

23. The findings of fact specifically in relation to Mr Fraser include the following:

12.       In May 2008 Mrs Robinson approached the late Mr Fraser and sought financial assistance to enable Kirk McCambley to set up in business. She explained that Kirk was the recently bereaved son of Billy McCambley. Mr Fraser and Billy McCambley were known to each other.

14.       Mr Fraser agreed to provide support in the form of a payment of £25k. The conditions attaching to the payment included the following –

Kirk McCambley was to give £5k of the £25k to Mrs Robinson to use for charitable purposes of her choice;

if Kirk McCambley no longer required the money it was to be given to Mrs Robinson to use for charitable purposes of her choice;

if, in Mrs Robinson’s opinion, the money was not being used wisely then the whole sum was to be given to Mrs Robinson to use for charitable purposes of her choice.

15.       That the payment was a gift.

16.       This payment of £25k was made by cheque dated 23 June 2008 payable to Kirk McCambley.

17.       That cheque was handed by Mr Fraser to Mrs Robinson and passed on by her to Kirk McCambley who lodged it in his account.

19.       Kirk McCambley subsequently paid sums amounting to £5k to Mrs Robinson.

21.       On 18 December 2008 it was agreed that Kirk McCambley would repay £20k to the estate of the late Mr Fraser and that Iris Robinson would pay the estate the balance of £5k.

22.       In January 2009 solicitors acting for Kirk McCambley paid £20k to the estate of the late Mr Fraser in part repayment of this £25k.

24. The findings of fact specifically in relation to Mr Campbell include the following:

10.       In 2008 Mr Campbell sought Mrs Robinson’s support for his application for planning permission for the development of social housing at Beverley Road, Newtownards.

11.       Following that request from Mr Campbell, Mrs Robinson, on 3 July 2008, wrote to the Planning Service expressing her support for that application and setting out her view that there was an urgent need for social housing in Newtownards. Her letter was on House of Commons notepaper.

23.       Following her successful approach to Mr Fraser, Mrs Robinson asked Mr Ken Campbell for money to help Kirk McCambley set up in business.

24.       Mr Campbell agreed to make an interest free unconditional loan of £25k.

25.       In July 2008 Mrs Robinson facilitated a meeting at Forestside Shopping Centre between Mrs Campbell and Kirk McCambley at which a cheque for £25k payable to Kirk McCambley was handed over.

26.       That cheque, dated 27 July 2008, cleared on 26 August 2008.

27.       On 18 December 2008 it was agreed that Kirk McCambley would repay this £25k to Mr Campbell.

28.       In early March 2009 Mr Campbell received a cheque for £20k in part repayment from solicitors acting for Kirk McCambley. The balance of £5K remains due by Kirk McCambley.

25. In relation to Mrs Robinson’s actions in relation to these payments the Commissioner has established that:

32.       Mrs Robinson did not report to the Electoral Commission her receipt of either of the two sums of £25k or of the sum of £5k.

35.       At no time between March 2007 and her resignation as an MLA did Mrs Robinson seek advice from the Clerk of Standards in respect of the need to register either of the payments of £25k by the two developers or the payment of £5k by Kirk McCambley.

36.       At no time during that period did Mrs Robinson advise the Clerk of Standards of any of these three payments.

37.       On her Members’ Interests Registration Form dated 9 November 2009 she made the following declaration ‘I confirm that I have read the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.’ She made no disclosure in respect of any of these three payments on that form.

26. The Commissioner final finding of fact is:

39.       Mrs Robinson has accepted the findings of fact at numbers 1- 38 above and ‘that she was in breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct by failing to register in the register of Members’ Interests her interest in either of the two payments of £25,000 or the payment of £5,000.’

The Commissioner’s reasoned decision

27. In relation to allegation 2 the Commissioner says there is no doubt that in the summer of 2008, as a result of approaches by Mrs Robinson, the two property developers each made a payment of £25,000 of which Kirk McCambley was the ultimate recipient. The Commissioner goes on to say that such payments could only constitute a breach of the Code on behalf of Mrs Robinson if they were unlawful due, for example, to corruption or if they were in breach of the Advocacy Rule. The Commissioner says that there is no evidence of any such criminality or breach and therefore concludes that Mrs Robinson did not breach the Code of Conduct simply by facilitating these payments.

28. In relation to allegation 3 the Commissioner says that the receipt of £5,000 by Mrs Robinson from Mr McCambley could only constitute a breach of the Code by Mrs Robinson if it was unlawful, for example, because it was part of a corrupt arrangement with Mr Fraser or because it was obtained by unlawful threats. The Commissioner says that there is no evidence of any such criminality and therefore concludes that Mrs Robinson did not breach the Code of Conduct by receiving £5,000 from Mr McCambley.

29. In relation to allegation 7 the Commissioner says that although Mrs Robinson did not report to the Electoral Commission either of the two sums of £25,000, or the £5,000 received from Mr McCambley, as he found no evidence that any of these payments were, in fact, in connection with any of her political activities, Mrs Robinson was under no duty to report these matters to the Electoral Commission. The Commissioner says that it follows that no issue of failing to uphold the law, and so of breaching the Code, arises in relation to this allegation.

30. In relation to allegation 10 the Commissioner says that although Mr Campbell made his payment of £25,000 within three weeks of Mrs Robinson writing a letter to the Planning Service in support of his proposed development, he has found no evidence of any corruption or impropriety in relation to this matter by either Mrs Robinson or Mr Campbell. Nor has he found any evidence that Mrs Robinson acted in anyway contrary to the Advocacy Rule set out in the Code of Conduct.

31. Finally, in relation to Allegation 9 the Commissioner says that whilst he has found no evidence that any of the three payments was in fact related to Mrs Robinson’s role as an MLA, he has no doubt that a reasonable person when faced with these facts might very reasonably think that the payments were corrupt and that they might influence Mrs Robinson’s actions or votes in the Assembly. That being so the Commissioner was, before the admissions made in the letters from her solicitors, satisfied that Mrs Robinson was under a duty to register the three payments in the Register and that she failed so to do. By her failures she was in breach of the provisions of the 1999 Code and the Guide. Mrs Robinson has admitted these breaches.

32. The Commissioner has pointed out that there is conflicting evidence about the exact nature of the three payments that were made but that these details are immaterial to the issue of whether or not there was a failure to register. The Commissioner’s analysis of this issue is set out from paragraphs 77 to 79 of his report.

33. The Commissioner says in paragraph 80 of his report that during police interview Mrs Robinson claimed to be unaware of her duty to register her interests or to have read the Code of Conduct. The Commissioner says he finds it hard to accept this claim as honest. However, since he has been unable to interview Mrs Robinson about this matter he stops short of concluding that it was a deliberate untruth. The Commissioner goes on to point out that if it was true that Mrs Robinson had never read the Code her failure demonstrates a total disregard for the ethical standards rightly expected of Members and is impossible to reconcile with the declaration that she had read the Code which she signed on both her 2001 and 2009 Registration of Members’ Interests Forms.

34. The Commissioner says that there is a more obvious and credible reason for her failure to register any of the three payments. Registering them would have put them in the public domain and brought them to the attention of her husband from whom she was at pains to withhold all details of the payments because of her relationship with Kirk McCambley. Whilst this reason would have been understandable, it would not in any way have excused her failure to register the payments.

35. The Commissioner’s conclusion in relation to Mrs Robinson is at paragraph 83. In it he says:

“Of the various allegations made against Mrs Iris Robinson in the Spotlight programme I am satisfied that her sole breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct were her failure to register her interest in any of the three payments. Although there is no evidence that any of the three payments was in fact connected with her role as an MLA they would assuredly have been perceived, by members of the public who became aware of them, as likely to influence her actions as an MLA. The fact that she failed to register them itself adds weight to the perception of their improper nature. In these circumstances she had a clear duty to register the payments. She failed in that duty. Her failure was a serious breach of the 1999 Code of Conduct. It is a matter of regret that her admissions of breaching the Code were not made until after the investigation had been completed”.

36. The Commissioner’s conclusion in relation to Mr Robinson is at paragraph 84. In it he says:

“I am satisfied that none of the allegations made in that programme against Mr Peter Robinson could, even if established as true, constitute a breach of either the 1999 or the 2009 Code of Conduct”.

The comments of Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson

37. In line with the Committee’s usual procedure, Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson were each provided with a copy of the Commissioner’s report. They were informed that they may provide the Committee with their comments in respect of any matter raised within the report. They were also advised that they may choose to appear before the Committee to make their comments in person and to respond to any questions that members of the Committee may have.

38. Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson each submitted comments to the Committee.

Mrs Robinson’s comments

39. Mrs Robinson’s comments have been made on her behalf by her solicitor, Mr John McBurney, in correspondence dated 4 August 2014 which is included in Appendix 2. Before setting out Mrs Robinson’s comments Mr McBurney explains that they are necessarily limited as the matters under consideration in the report occurred at a time when Mrs Robinson was mentally unwell. Mr McBurney also takes issue with the Commissioner having said (in paragraph 8 of his report) that one of the main causes of delay in relation to the investigation was the legal challenge to the submission of the report to the Committee.

40. Mrs Robinson’s comments include an acceptance of the findings of fact made at paragraph 62 of the Commissioner’s report. She accepts that she ought to have registered the two payments of £25,000 made to Mr McCambley (and the related payment back to her of £5,000 from Mr Fraser’s gift), solely on the basis of the extended definition of the registration requirements set out by the Commissioner at paragraphs 72-76 of his report.

41. Mrs Robinson draws particular attention to the Commissioner’s finding that the £5,000 to be given to her as part of Mr Fraser’s gift to Mr McCambley was to be used for charitable purposes and not, as some have suggested, for her own use.

42. Mrs Robinson welcomes the finding that the payments to Mr McCambley were not unlawful and that there is no evidence of any criminality, breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct or breach of the Advocacy Rule on her part in her having facilitated these payments.

43. Mrs Robinson takes issue with the Commissioner’s description of her failure as a “serious breach”. Paragraphs 8 and 9 of Mr McBurney’s correspondence invites the Committee to take the view that the failure to register was a technical breach that was understandable.

44. Mr McBurney also says in his letter that it is plainly not the case that Mrs Robinson was unaware of her duty to register interests in the Assembly’s Register of Members’ Interests; nor that she had not read the Code of Conduct. In response to the Commissioner’s comments at paragraph 80 of his report on this issue, Mrs Robinson denies any suggestion of deliberate untruthfulness.

Mr Robinson’s comments

45. In his response of 1 August 2014 (also included in Appendix 2) Mr Robinson says that it is no surprise that the Commissioner’s investigation demonstrably clears him of the “BBC’s scurrilous claims” of acting improperly and being in breach of the Code of Conduct. He says that this is consistent with the conclusion of all the other investigations, inspections, opinions and findings from other independent bodies and examiners.

46. Mr Robinson goes on to make comments in relation to the findings and conclusions that refer to Mrs Robinson. He cites Mrs Robinson’s history of mental health issues and says that the circumstances outlined in the report are directly connected to the fact that, during the period in question, Mrs Robinson was suffering from mental health illness. He says that Mrs Robinson’s health will be harmfully affected by the consequences of “further relentless, cruel and gratuitous regurgitation of sensationalised stories”.

47. Mr Robinson describes the breach of the Code by Mrs Robinson identified by the Commissioner as a technicality as it related to her failure to register an interest “not because … it was connected with her role as an MLA but rather because some members of the public might believe it was”. He also contends that the investigation, as it related to Mrs Robinson, was unnecessary and should have ceased when Mrs Robinson resigned as an MLA. He says that that part of the investigation was without purpose as the Committee cannot impose sanctions upon Mrs Robinson and that the only effect will be upon her health.

The Committee’s considerations

48. The Committee considered the Commissioner’s report at its meeting on 10 September 2014. The Commissioner presented his report to the Committee and answered members’ questions.

49. Having given the matter careful consideration, the Committee is satisfied that all allegations contained within the Spotlight programme and any other relevant related matters have been identified and considered by the Commissioner.

50. The Committee is content with the Commissioner’s assessment of the admissibility of the thirteen allegations (i.e. that of the ten identified allegations in relation to Mrs Robinson, four of them were inadmissible and that of the three identified allegations in relation to Mr Robinson, all were inadmissible).

51. The Committee accepts the Commissioner’s thirty nine findings of fact.

52. The Committee accepts the Commissioner’s conclusion that, in relation to the payments of £25,000 of which Mr McCambley was the beneficiary, these could only constitute a breach of the Code on behalf of Mrs Robinson if they were unlawful due, for example, to corruption or they were in breach of the Advocacy Rule, and that there is no evidence of any such criminality or breach.

53. The Committee accepts the Commissioner’s conclusion that the receipt of £5,000 by Mrs Robinson from Mr McCambley could only constitute a breach of the Code if it was unlawful, for example, because it was part of a corrupt arrangement with Mr Fraser or because it was obtained by unlawful threats and that there is no evidence of any such criminality.

54. The Committee accepts the Commissioner’s conclusion that there is no evidence that any of these payments were, in fact, in connection with any of Mrs Robinson’s political activities.

55. The Committee accepts the Commissioner’s conclusion that although Mr Campbell made his payment of £25,000 within three weeks of Mrs Robinson writing a letter in support of his proposed development, there is no evidence of any corruption or impropriety in relation to this matter by either Mrs Robinson or Mr Campbell.

56. The Committee also accepts the Commissioner’s conclusion that there is no evidence that Mrs Robinson acted in anyway contrary to the Advocacy Rule set out in the Code of Conduct.

57. The Committee agrees with the Commissioner’s conclusion that Mrs Robinson was required to register her interest in the three payments.

58. The Committee agrees with the Commissioner’s conclusion that there is conflicting evidence about the exact nature of the three payments that were made but that these details are immaterial to the issue of whether or not there was a failure to register.

59. The Committee agrees with the Commissioner that this was the sole breach that occurred.

60. The Committee agrees with the Commissioner’s conclusion that this was a serious breach.

61. In coming to this view, the Committee has also taken into consideration the comments of Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson, both of whom had disputed the conclusion that this was a serious breach. Each drew attention to the fact that the Commissioner had said that there was no evidence that any of these payments were in connection with any of Mrs Robinson’s political activities. Each said that the payments were registrable solely because of the perception that they might influence Mrs Robinson’s actions as a Member and each therefore described the breach as “technical”. The Committee discussed these comments with the Commissioner.

62. The Committee is clear that Mrs Robinson’s failure to register was neither technical nor understandable. One of the aims of the Code is to –

“Ensure public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members by establishing openness and accountability as key elements of the Code”.

63. The main purpose of the Register of Interests is –

“…. to give public notification on a continuous basis of those financial interests held by Members which might be thought to influence their conduct in carrying out their Assembly duties”.

64. The rationale for the inclusion of any entry in the Register of Members’ Interests is therefore due to the perception that an interest might influence a Member’s actions (regardless of whether it actually does). In this case it is clear that the public would have regarded Mrs Robinson’s interest in the three payments as significant and having the potential to influence her actions as a Member because of –

their highly unusual nature;

their high value;

ongoing public concern arising from the perceived relationship between some politicians and developers; and

the fact that Mrs Robinson had only very shortly beforehand made representations in support of a planning application by Mr Campbell.

65. Damage is done to public confidence and trust in the integrity of the Assembly as a whole when a Member breaks the rules by failing to register an interest which would very obviously be regarded by the public as likely to influence his or her actions as a Member. The Committee therefore regards the breach by Mrs Robinson as serious and would have considered bringing forward a corresponding sanction for the Assembly’s consideration had Mrs Robinson still been a Member.

66. Mr Robinson said that the investigation, insofar as it related to Mrs Robinson, was without purpose as the Committee cannot impose sanctions upon Mrs Robinson. It is correct that the Assembly cannot impose a sanction upon a former Member. However, given the seriousness of the allegations in this case, and the public concern arising from them, the Committee is satisfied that the public interest was best served by having an investigation to establish the full facts relevant to these matters.

67. One of the seven principles of public life is Integrity. All public office holders must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships. This principle is particularly important for Members of the Assembly. Should any Member have a query about the application of this principle in relation to his or her own circumstances and the Assembly’s rules, then advice and guidance should be sought from the Clerk of Standards.

Publication of the Commissioner’s report

68. As per the provision made in section 27(3) of the of the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, and in Standing Order 69A(3)(e), the Committee is publishing the Commissioner’s report on the investigation. It is included in Appendix 1 of this report.

69. In line with the Committee’s position on any report, the Commissioner has redacted confidential and other personal information from the evidence he received where there is no prejudice to the public interest in knowing how a conclusion has been reached.

70. At its meeting on 10 September 2014 the Committee also considered correspondence from Mrs Robinson’s solicitor in relation to the publication of certain material within the Commissioner’s report. The Committee consequently sought legal advice and decided to make a number of its own redactions to the Commissioner’s report in order to comply with its obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998.

71. The Committee is satisfied that the redactions that it has made are necessary and proportionate and do not prevent readers of the report from fully understanding how both the Commissioner and the Committee reached their conclusions.

Annex A

Timeline of key milestones during the period from the Committee’s referral until the submission of the report

7 January 2010

BBC Spotlight programme broadcast.

11 January 2010

The Committee on Standards and Privileges meets and agrees to refer matter to the interim Assembly Commissioner for Standards for investigation.

27 January 2010

The Committee agrees to suspend the investigation until the outcome of PSNI investigation is known.

8 June 2011

The Committee agrees that the interim Commissioner should resume the suspended investigation following confirmation from him that the Public Prosecution Service had taken a decision not to prosecute.

June 2011 – September 2012

The interim Commissioner investigates but is unable to secure an interview with Mrs Robinson.

17 September 2012

The investigation transfers from the interim Commissioner to the new Assembly Commissioner for Standards (“the Commissioner”).

January 2013

 

The Commissioner receives medical evidence that were Mrs Robinson to participate in an interview with him it would have a serious adverse impact on her health.

22 November 2013

The Commissioner submits a report on the investigation.

9 December 2013

The report is sent to Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson for comment.

11 February 2014

The Commissioner advises that he shall submit a revised version of his report of 22 November 2013.

31 March 2014

The Commissioner submits a revised report on the investigation.

4 April 2014

The revised report sent to Mrs Robinson and Mr Robinson for comment.

7 May 2014

The Commissioner requests that his revised report be withheld from the Committee and that no further action be taken until further legal issues are resolved.

3 July 2014

The Commissioner submits his final report on the investigation with further revisions.

 

Download the full report here

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