Belfast Telegraph

Bell secretly recorded ‘personal and private’ conversation with DUP colleagues

The minister who oversaw the RHI met deputy leader Nigel Dodds and East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell in March 2015 about complaints he had raised.

A former DUP Stormont minister secretly recorded a “personal and private” conversation with senior party colleagues about a botched green energy scheme, written evidence has revealed.

Jonathan Bell met deputy leader Nigel Dodds and East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell in March 2015 about complaints he had raised with leader and Stormont first minister Arlene Foster.

Mr Bell has previously made a series of serious allegations about his treatment while he was handling the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme as enterprise minister.

The RHI was designed to encourage businesses to switch from burning fossil fuels to renewable sources but flaws saw it run up a massive overspend and prompted the collapse of Stormont powersharing.

The recordings not relevant to what I had said on the Nolan Show were deleted by me, including the recordings of the meetings with Peter Robinson and with Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell as well as the other recordings as they were of a private and personal nature Jonathan Bell

Mr Bell’s latest written evidence to a public inquiry probing the affair said he also recorded a conversation between himself and former first minister Peter Robinson.

He discussed a letter he was drafting setting out complaints about his treatment, which was later forwarded to Mrs Foster.

Mr Bell wrote: “As a result of these complaints, I then met with Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell to discuss the matters that I had raised in the letter to Mrs Foster and this meeting was recorded.”

He said he sent the recordings to BBC presenter Stephen Nolan.

Mr Bell added: “The recordings not relevant to what I had said on the Nolan Show were deleted by me, including the recordings of the meetings with Peter Robinson and with Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell as well as the other recordings as they were of a private and personal nature.”

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Jonathan Bell’s latest written evidence said he recorded a conversation between himself and former first minister Peter Robinson (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Bell has previously admitted recording a sensitive private conversation with his permanent secretary in the civil service, Dr Andrew McCormick.

He has made a series of allegations about the behaviour of DUP officials, special advisers to ministers, in the final months of the scheme, which have been strongly denied by them.

The circumstances surrounding the delayed introduction of cost controls – which saw a massive spike in applications to the scheme at the higher rate of return – and the eventual closure of the scheme have been at the heart of the public inquiry.

Mrs Foster has said she regrets not sacking Mr Bell when she became first minister.

Mr Robinson appointed him despite internal party opposition.

If I, and other leaders, had been bound by the exacting standards some of my colleagues advocated and could only make appointments that met the level of perfection that they prescribed, there might have been a lot of empty seats around the Executive table Peter Robinson on appointing Jonathan Bell

The former first minister acknowledged that the former social worker was an “acquired taste” but had suitable academic qualifications and worthwhile life experience for the enterprise post.

In newly published written evidence to the inquiry, he wrote: “If I, and other leaders, had been bound by the exacting standards some of my colleagues advocated and could only make appointments that met the level of perfection that they prescribed, there might have been a lot of empty seats around the Executive table.”

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