Belfast Telegraph

RHI scheme Dungannon brothers have earned £1.3m

By Sean O'Driscoll

Two Dungannon brothers have 21 RHI-funded boilers on their poultry farms and have so far earned more than £1.3 million from the scheme, a list of claimants has shown.

A 61-page list of all those individuals and companies who received support payments under the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme above the threshold of £5,000 was published by the Department for the Economy yesterday.

Read More: Revealed: Full list of RHI scheme claimants

Tom Forgrave, the poultry chairman of the Ulster Farmers' Union, has 10 boilers and has earned over £750,000. Mr Forgrave, who backed a court battle to prevent the release of the names, is the third largest recipient of payments.

RHI is likely to cost Stormont almost £500m in the long-term.

An inquiry into the botched scheme is expected to begin hearing evidence in the autumn.

Paul Hobson has 13 boilers and is the fifth largest recipient on £659,540.

That is topped by his brother Jeremy on £665,204 from his eight boilers. All the figures are up to February 28, 2017.

The Hobson brothers each run poultry farms near Eglish in Co Tyrone and are directors of each other's companies.

Paul Hobson runs a chicken farm and a tanning salon from the same address, according to company records.

Jeremy Hobson and his wife Carolyn Crooks were featured in The Chicken People, a BBC Northern Ireland programme about workers in the poultry business. Ms Crooks is a former Scotland Yard murder squad detective who retired to help Mr Hobson run the farm, which raises 160,000 chickens for Moy Park every year.

Their boilers were installed in 2013 and 2014, before the big rush to sign up in 2015.

The Department of Agriculture used Paul Hobson's farm as a successful example to other farmers interested in RHI.

One department official included a photograph of Mr Hobson's boilers in an article he wrote, encouraging farmers to attend a departmental workshop about RHI benefits.

It was previously revealed that Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader, was Agriculture Minister from the scheme's inception in 2011 to its abrupt closure in 2016, and that her department organised 58 such workshops in which the RHI was promoted.

The Hobson brothers' boilers were installed with separate heating pipes to maximise profits from RHI, according to the company that installed them.

Alternative Heat, a major Northern Ireland wood pellet installer, uses both Hobson farms as case studies on its website.

Of Paul Hobson, it states that it connected two boilers into "two individual heat meters and heating lines, allowing the client to apply for the Renewable Heat Incentive for the two separate heating systems".

Under the RHI rules, grants can be maximised by running separate heating lines for each boiler.

The company also avoided having to install heat meter reports, which some applicants have had to furnish to the scheme's supervisors.

"The installations have been RHI-accredited and deemed as simple installations, therefore independent heat meter reports were not required," Alternative Heat states on its website.

There is no suggestion that any of the claimants have done anything wrong.

The department said it published the list "in the interests of transparency" and added that inclusion "does not imply wrongdoing by any of the beneficiaries".

But the Renewable Heat Association NI (RHANI), which represents many of the scheme's recipients, said the publication of names had been "distressing" for its members.

RHANI also claimed that the figures were inaccurate - some by up to 300% per year.

The organisation questioned why the department had "put so much effort into naming the scheme participants who are suffering as a consequence of its own process in setting up and managing the RHI scheme".

And UFU chief executive Wesley Aston said: "The media focus on RHI has been intense and many legitimate participants have been unfairly targeted. The faults with this scheme lie solely with those that created it.

"Publishing the names of participants deflects attention from the major failings of civil servants.

"This only serves the interest of the department, not the wider public."

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