Jolene Bunting 'doctored’ payslip to claim cash from Britain First, watchdog told
Ex-TUV councillor claimed to have been fined for allowing Britain First member Jayda Fransen to sit on Belfast’s mayoral chair
A public services watchdog has heard allegations that former councillor Jolene Bunting “doctored” a wage slip and wrongly claimed to have been fined for allowing Britain First member Jayda Fransen to sit on the mayoral chair in Belfast City Hall.
Bunting was later given money through two online payments made by Britain First leader Paul Golding for the alleged council fine, before an internal “investigation” by the far right party caused them to suspect they had been misled.
In January 2018, Fransen — at the time the deputy leader of the controversial political party — posted a video of herself sitting in the Lord Mayor’s chair in the council chamber of Belfast City Hall wearing official robes.
Fransen, who had just appeared in court on incitement charges that morning, was heard saying she intended to fight the case and clear her name for a speech “in which I mentioned the ‘I’ word, Islam”.
Her access to the chamber had been facilitated by Bunting, who was an independent councillor for the Court ward, having originally been elected on a TUV ticket.
Belfast City Council said at the time that the protocols for filming in the chamber were not followed and it was not made aware of the plans. It said it was looking into the circumstances.
A complaint was made to the Local Government Commissioner for Standards. That, and a number of other complaints to the NI Public Services Ombudsman (Nipso) about Bunting’s conduct, are yet to be heard.
But a separate complaint was also made by Golding, who claimed she had used her position as a councillor to defraud Britain First, and is now being heard.
At an adjudication hearing in Belfast on Tuesday attended by Golding, a Nipso panel heard that in July 2018, Bunting rang the far right leader in a “flustered” state.
Giving evidence, Golding, dressed in a navy suit, said that in a phone call Bunting had told him she had been fined a £500 penalty by Belfast City Council for allowing Fransen to sit in the mayor’s chair. “Jolene Bunting was very flustered and stressed,” he told the panel. He added that he told her that if “Jayda Fransen’s stunt was responsible” that the party would pay the penalty.
“We will cover it, that was obviously our stunt,” he said.
However, he said he would need to see some sort of proof before he could release the funds.
He later received an email from Bunting that included a scan of her council payslip.
It showed ‘other deductions’ of £545.35. Following this Golding authorised two payments, one of £50 and a further payment of £60.
Golding added that he had only recently been released from prison and that Britain First was “in a bad state” financially, hence the part payments.
He said Bunting was “chasing me for payment”.
The hearing was told about messages sent from Bunting, one of which asked: “Were you able to put something in Paul?”
Another read: “You wont forget about me today” and was accompanied by a smiley face emoji.
“At that stage I was on good terms with Jolene,” he added.
This all occurred at a time when Fransen was in prison serving a sentence for incitement.
However, later in July 2018 there were allegations that another party member was using Fransen’s credit card while she was in jail.
Golding claimed Bunting was aware of this and didn’t report it.
Bunting, he said, was not a member of Britain First so couldn’t be expelled. Instead they proscribed her, banning other members from associating with her, and stopped the payments.
Golding claimed that shortly after this, an unnamed DUP councillor cast doubt on the fine story and when they checked the pay slip they discovered it had been “doctored”.
A copy of the same pay slip presented to the hearing showed that the extra deductions were in fact for mobile phone usage.
The hearing was also told that pay slips provided to investigators from the Public Standards Ombudsman showed that Britain First had just £1,379.56 in its bank account at the time the payments to Bunting were made.
Senior commissioner Ian Gordon concluded the hearing, which will deliver its findings on Wednesday.
Bunting was not present to hear the complaint against her and had chosen not to be legally represented.
However, in statements given previously, she claimed the money was “wages” for allowing her home address to be used as PO Box for Britain First.
Golding denied this, saying the party used PO boxes in Belfast and England and would never use a home address for official correspondence.
Never far from controversy Jolene Bunting was elected to Belfast City Council in 2014 as a member of the TUV.
She resigned from the party in 2017 after it failed to select her to run in the Assembly elections.
She served the rest of her tenure as an independent and lost her seat in May 2019 with just 351 first preference votes.
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