Disgraced councillor banned for three years

October 24, 2016

A councillor on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council who has been convicted of sexual assault and fraud has been disqualified from being a councillor for three years.

Independent councillor Patrick Clarke from Castlewellan, who was originally elected as an Alliance councillor, became the first councillor in Northern Ireland to be the subject of an adjudication hearing by the Local Government Commissioner for Standards for breaking the local government code of conduct.

Mr Clarke’s disqualification from council follows a string of convictions in recent years for offences including sexual assault, criminal damage and defrauding two community groups.  In 2014, he was convicted of defrauding the Dundrum Village Association of £750 and in September last year he admitted sexually assaulting a woman at a hotel in Newcastle shortly before Christmas 2014.

In June 2015, Clarke avoided a jail sentence after admitting to swindling almost £2,000 from a community regeneration scheme, and in September 2015 he was arrested after a neighbour told police he forced his way into their home with a hammer, smashing a ceramic cup.

The disgraced councillor caused some confusion last week after he appeared to renege on an earlier decision to resign from the council, ahead of Friday’s adjudication hearing.  Submitting his resignation verbally to council Chief Executive, Liam Hannaway, Clarke is understood to have cited depression and “alcohol issues”, adding that he accepted he needed to address his problems, and apologising to his family, friends and the electorate.

However, he then made a surprising u-turn on his decision to resign and wrote to the council chief to confirm he would not be resigning.

The fallen councillor has now been left with no choice after Friday’s hearing saw acting local government standards commissioner Ian Gordon disqualify him with immediate effect.

“A significant element of his conduct involves bringing his office as a councillor and that of his council into disrepute,” said Mr Gordon.

“The consequences of his actions demonstrate a significant disregard for the code.

“They occurred over a period of time during which he does not appear to have shown any insight into those consequences.”

The standards commissioner said Clarke’s poor conduct “undermines the critical trust between the public and the people they elect” and he added,

“This relationship of trust is essential if public confidence in local government and the democratic process is to be maintained.”

The council said that because Mr Clarke was originally elected as an Alliance member, the party would be asked to nominate someone to fill his seat.