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BBC offered to cut prayer footage, but Bell refused


Jonathan Bell praying before the interview

Jonathan Bell praying before the interview

Jonathan Bell praying before the interview

The BBC offered to drop footage of Jonathan Bell praying before the start of his explosive interview with Stephen Nolan about the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

But the DUP MLA said no, and insisted that he wanted the pictures to be included in the recording which went out on air.

Mr Bell went into the BBC's Belfast studios to claim that his party leader Arlene Foster had overruled him after he wanted to shut down the controversial RHI scheme.

But the First Minister has denied his allegations about the scandal - which is set to cost taxpayers over £400m.

Mr Bell stunned Nolan, his producers and studio technicians after he arrived for the interview by getting down on his knees beside a chair to pray.

He was accompanied by two men, including his father, Pastor Fergus Bell, who laid their hands on his back and prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon the politician and his interviewer, to direct them in all that they thought and said.

Throughout the interview Mr Bell insisted that he had been motivated by a desire to give an honest account of what happened in the RHI scheme. He told Stephen Nolan: "I have undertaken before God that I will tell you the truth."

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Afterwards, BBC producers discussed the filming of the pre-interview prayers with Mr Bell. A BBC source said: "It was thought that maybe it was too private, too personal to show to viewers. But Mr Bell said he wanted the prayers to be seen."

The Strangford MLA has been criticised on social media for not praying away from the cameras. A number of his critics said to do it in the studio was "cringeworthy".

One social media post said: "The man may well have deeply held religious convictions. That's his own business. But being filmed kneeling in prayer before an interview savaging the leader of a party with many religious hard-liners ... that is no accident or happenstance."

Another said: "If they wanted no-one to see, it they could have easily done this backstage or in the car before going in. They wanted it to be filmed."

Another post quoted a passage from Matthew Chapter 6, verses 5-6, which urges people to pray in private unlike those "who love to pray standing in the synagogues and street corners to be seen by others".

It added: "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

The BBC source also said that Stephen Nolan's interview with Mrs Foster, just hours before it was broadcast, was conducted in a "hostile" atmosphere.

The source added: "It seemed that everybody who was anybody was there, including the SPADs.

"To say that Stephen Nolan got a frosty reception would be an understatement. There were no pleasantries exchanged before the interview, but Stephen didn't pull his punches and after the interview ended, Mrs Foster took her microphone off and left hurriedly without a word."

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