23 November 2006 Edition
DUP election fraud
BY LAURA FRIEL
A former DUP mayor has been jailed after being found guilty of election fraud and may face further charges for assault. 57-year-old Dessie Stewart had been a DUP councillor for 17 years and had held the office of mayor in 2003 when he was forced to resign following six charges of election fraud.
The Coleraine councillor was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment and banned from voting or taking public office for five years. Presiding Judge Grant said Stewart had "attacked the very heart of democracy" and imposed an immediate jail sentence.
The DUP politician took votes of elderly nursing home residents in Portrush and made them out in favour of himself and party colleague Gregory Campbell, East Derry MLA.
A custodial sentence was required, the judge told Stewart, "given the seriousness of the offences, the position of responsibility held by you at the time, your response to the offences and your arrogant dismissal of the expressed concerns of the staff when you demanded these voting papers".
The judge said he was satisfied that given Stewart's long experience and familiarity with the electoral system, he knew what he was doing was entirely wrong.
Stewart pleaded guilty to six charges including pretending to be someone else in order to cast postal votes and fraudulently stopping free exercise of a proxy vote. The charges relate to the May 2005 general and local government election.
The former councillor had hoped to seek office in the seven new super councils in 2009 but that dream was now in tatters, the court was told.
Stewart faces the possibility of further charges after he was captured on camera assaulting a press photographer during an earlier court hearing.