Fraudster Alliance councillor begs to keep job
A disgraced councillor who defrauded a community group of almost £2,000 has insisted he wants to continue as a public representative.
Patrick Clarke, a member of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, has asked the public to show understanding to allow him to remain as an independent councillor.
The former Alliance Party man said he had paid a “very heavy price’’ for his actions, and urged people not to judge him too harshly.
“There will be many within the general public who, without the full knowledge of the facts and mitigating circumstances, will pass judgement and cast aspersions on the court case,” he said.
“However, I simply ask the general public to respect and understand that I have paid a heavy price for matters which now are in the public domain.
“I trust that I will be allowed to regain my strength, wellbeing and health to continue my duties as a councillor, to do what I do best which is represent all my constituents which I always have and will continue to do so.’’
It is unclear, at this stage, if the conviction for fraud will lead to Clarke, 40, being forced to stand down as an elected representative.
The newly-created supercouncil is currently seeking legal advice and has stated it will act in “accordance with any legislative requirements”.
Last week at Downpatrick Court, Clarke, from Main Street in Dundrum, was ordered to spend a year on probation and complete 100 hours of community service.
The court was told that Clarke was chairman of the Drumaroad Community Regeneration Limited company, set up to raise funds to rebuild a church hall in the village. But the alarm was raised after it was discovered there was no money in the bank account.
When the PSNI were brought in to investigate, they discovered that nine cheques had been forged and the signatures of other directors had been forged by Clarke. As a result Clarke obtained £1,964 from the community organisation.
When Clarke was arrested, he initially denied doing anything wrong but during later questioning, made “full admissions” to what he had done, eventually pleading guilty to eight charges of committing fraud by abusing the position he held with the Drumaroad Community Regeneration Limited and five further charges of fraud by false representation, between May 30 and August 16, 2010.
Defence barrister Niamh McCartney said Clarke had already repaid £1,000 and that a similar amount was being held by the solicitors to repay the missing money. She said at the time he had been “binge drinking’’ and dealing with mental health issues.
“He saw an opportunity and he took it,” she said.
District Judge Alan White told him the series of frauds were aggravated because they had been committed over a prolonged period against a public organisation, “causing loss to the community”.However, he was giving him credit for pleading guilty and his clear record.
Clarke is still facing sexual assault charges.
He was arrested following an alleged incident on a night just before Christmas in which he is accused of assaulting a woman. He resigned from the Alliance Party in February.
This week Clarke was ordered to stand trial on two charges of sexual assault.
The disgraced councillor wasn’t in court to hear a defence lawyer assert his client would be denying the charges.
Judge Trainor listed the trial, which will last less than a day, to be heard on July 2.