Northern Ireland

Policing Board supports chairman's decision

Barry Gilligan
Image caption Mr Gilligan's home was searched by police last month

Policing board members have supported the decision of its chairman, Barry Gilligan, not to resume his role until a police investigation is completed.

Last month, Barry Gilligan went voluntarily to a police station to be interviewed about a land deal involving a company, of which he is a director.

It followed a police search of Mr Gilligan's home and the headquarters of the Policing Board.

The land at Nelson Street in Belfast had been designated for social housing.

Mr Gilligan had been due to resume his position as chairman this week, after six months on sick leave.

But he announced last month that he was postponing his return, after police searched his home and office at policing board headquarters as part of the investigation into the sale of land at Nelson street in north Belfast.

Mr Gilligan, who denies any wrongdoing, has since been voluntarily questioned by police.

In a statement on Thursday, the board said members agreed that Mr Gilligan's decision not to return until the investigation is completed was the appropriate course of action.

The controversy began when it emerged that Mr Gilligan had been asked to offer advice to a community group which wanted to build social housing on the site.

But, within weeks, Big Picture Developments, of which Mr Gilligan is a director, acquired the site, collapsing the community group's plans.

In March, the Housing Executive asked police to investigate its involvement with the Nelson Street site.

For years, the Housing Executive opposed the commercial scheme, insisting the land was designated for social housing.

However, an investigation by the BBC Newsline programme showed that the Housing Executive subsequently appeared to change its mind, with one official writing to planners telling them that it was "withdrawing the request for social housing at the scheme".

It is believed this letter forms part of the focus of the police investigation.

After it was discovered, senior staff at the Housing Executive ensured the letter was withdrawn and its original position of opposition to the development was reinstated.

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