Belfast Telegraph

Criminal probe into DUP figures over RHI scandal leaks to media

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

The leaking of information to journalists by senior DUP figures during the height of the RHI scandal is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Former Stormont minister Simon Hamilton and his then special adviser John Robinson leaked emails from civil servants in January 2017.

With Mr Hamilton's consent, Mr Robinson sent an envelope containing copies of the emails to journalists.

The emails from the summer of 2015 detailed contact between officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) and those in the energy industry.

It was claimed that the emails were leaked to take pressure off the DUP at the height of the scandal.

The alleged data breach is being investigated by the ICO, alongside the alleged leaking of a list of RHI claimants to the BBC.

The emails were leaked after Mr Crawford came under intense media attention after it was revealed his relatives' had interests in the poultry industry and subsequent claims that the party's aide had sought to delay the introduction of RHI cost controls.

Mr Hamilton told the subsequent RHI inquiry that the decision to leak the material was not his "proudest moment".

An ICO spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph: “The ICO is carrying out a criminal investigation into a complaint received from the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland, concerning the unlawful obtaining and disclosure of personal data relating to members of the Renewable Heat Initiative (NI) Scheme. The investigation is ongoing.”

The ICO initially decided not to proceed to prosecution due to a lack of evidence relating to the leaks but evidence coming from the RHI inquiry led to a reigniting of their interest in the case.

"Based on the original evidence provided, the ICO decided not to proceed to prosecution in this case," the spokesperson added.

"The complainant requested a review of that decision, based on additional evidence coming to light in 2018, and an assessment of that additional evidence forms part of that review, which remains ongoing."

In a written statement, provided to the RHI inquiry, Mr Robinson said that he "tried to balance" the public interest in leaking the material with that of his party and his colleagues.

He said he was "encouraged" to pass the emails to the media by Arlene Foster's then adviser Richard Bullick and that Mr Crawford also wanted them disclosed.

The DUP has yet to comment on the matter.

RHI led to the resignation of then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness when it became clear the scheme exposed the taxpayer to a huge overspend of £460 million by paying out more in subsidies than it cost to buy fuel.

Sinn Fein had called for the resignation of then First Minister Arlene Foster, who was the Enterprise Minister who signed off on the disastrous scheme in 2012.

The scandal led to a public inquiry, which is expected to publish its report later this year.

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