THE chief executive of a key agency which helps house North-East asylum seekers has been suspended following allegations of fraud.

Daoud Zaaroura, who heads the North of England Refugee Service (NERS), is now at the centre of a police investigation.

He was suspended last Thursday by trustees of the charity after a complaint of a "serious nature" was made against him to police.

NERS, which has branches in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Wallsend and Sunderland, has since appointed an acting chief executive, Warren Adams.

Mr Zaaroura, 54, is the former partner of journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was arrested and held by the Taliban in Afghanistan last year. The pair met while Mr Zaaroura was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the Middle-East.

Last night, NERS chairman of personnel Alisdair Gillespie said Mr Zaaroura had been suspended until further notice.

They were co-operating fully with police and conducting an internal inquiry into the matter, believed to involve accounts held by NERS.

Mr Gillespie said: "The board does not believe the allegations that have been made, but we obviously need to safeguard our position."

A statement released by the North of England Refugee Service said it was continuing to assist asylum seekers and its service to clients was not affected.

Northumbria Fraud Squad said it was investigating, but inquiries were at an "early stage"