'very serious' | 

PSNI search of council offices allegedly linked to attempts to 'delete protocol check emails'

Staff were withdrawn from Larne Port after claims loyalists were threatening protocol check workers in February
A sign protesting against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Larne Harbour (Niall Carson/PA)

A sign protesting against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Larne Harbour (Niall Carson/PA)

Jamie McDowell

The PSNI are investigating Mid and East Antrim Borough council in an investigation linked to the withdrawal of staff working on measures put in place by the Northern Ireland Protocol, a documentary by BBC Spotlight claims.

Sources speaking to the programme allege part of the investigation is focussing on alleged attempts by council staff to delete emails sent to members of the DUP which were being sought after as part of a Freedom of Information request.

Larne Port, where Protocol checks were taking place on lorries and vehicles coming into Northern Ireland is in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area, and back in February staff were removed from the port due to alleged threats from loyalist paramilitaries.

The council chief executive, Anne Donaghy, wrote to the UK Government at the time outlining her concerns surrounding graffiti appearing to target workers in the area, with staff later being withdrawn by the Department of Agriculture.

A journalist for Belfast Live later filed a Freedom of Information request asking if the letter had been shared with other politicians which had been sent to the Cabinet Office at the time, with it emerging the letter had been sent to eight DUP politicians, but no other members of political parties received a copy.

In the BBC Spotlight documentary it emerges PSNI searches of the council’s headquarters were linked to this FOI Request, and suggests communications had been sent requesting the emails be deleted.

Speaking to the programme, QC Gavin Millar said the situation was “very serious. For a public authority to be investigated by the police is very, very unusual”.

He added: "I don't know of any case where a local authority has been investigated for anything like this."

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