Police end criminal probe into MLAs’ expenses claims

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A police investigation into allegations of serious irregularities in some MLAs’ expenses claims has ended – partly because the Stormont authorities never referred any matters to the police for criminal investigation.

In November 2014, a major two-part BBC Spotlight investigation into the Stormont expenses system made a series of revelations which led to the PSNI stating that its serious crime branch was “scoping allegations of potential criminality” in relation to some MLAs’ expenses claims.

The BBC revealed that Sinn Fein MLAs had claimed nearly £700,000 in expenses for research from a company run by the party’s finance managers – and the programme could not find evidence of any research having been conducted.

One Sinn Fein MLA was reported to have said they had never heard of the company until seeing its name on their expenses claim.

The programmes also raised serious concerns about the amount claimed by the then DUP MLA and Stormont Speaker Willie Hay for heating oil, which led to a separate police investigation and court case (see below).

And they contained an allegation from former Sinn Fein MLA Davy Hyland that a party expenses claim form for mileage of almost £5,000 had been signed without his consent – despite the fact that he did not even drive.

Former Westminster standards watchdog Sir Alistair Graham expressed concern at the time about another revelation – that Sinn Fein was claiming public money to rent offices from mysterious ‘cultural societies’ with strong links to Sinn Fein and which he feared were “bogus organisations...a way of channelling public money to political parties”.

At the time, both Sinn Fein and the DUP attacked the BBC over its investigation.

In a statement yesterday, Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes told the News Letter: “Allegations made in the Spotlight programme were studied and a number of inquiries were conducted.

“These included liaison with regulatory authorities at Stormont, neither of which referred any possible criminal issues to police for investigation.

“Given the increasing demands on our reduced resources, unless new information is forthcoming about potential criminality, there will be no further police action into the allegations made in the programme.”

Last week, fresh concerns were raised about MLAs’ expenses after the body which sets the rules for MLAs’ claims said that the Assembly is not enforcing those rules, an allegation which the Assembly rejected.