DUP's Bell recorded Peter Robinson chat on where to take RHI allegations, claims new book
DUP whistleblower Jonathan Bell recorded former party leader Peter Robinson discussing with him whether he should go to the BBC or The Times with his cash-for-ash allegations.
The revelation is made by News Letter political editor Sam McBride in his highly acclaimed new book on the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.
The recording of the two men's conversation was given to BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan, who met Mr Bell near his Co Down home in the run-up to his explosive programme outlining the RHI allegations. The former DUP minister gave Mr Nolan a tape recorder containing a secret recording of a conversation with a senior civil servant.
Mr McBride writes: "As Nolan drove back to Belfast, he listened to what he had been given.
"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the recording finished and another conversation played. This time it was a conversation between Bell and former First Minister Peter Robinson.
"They were discussing what Bell was doing and whether he should go to The Times or to Nolan with his story."
Mr McBride says the former DUP leader sounded cautious in his words, with Mr Bell driving the conversation.
"Nevertheless, the involvement of Robinson - just a year after he had stepped down as DUP leader - added a new layer of intrigue to what was unfolding," the journalist says. "Bell's closeness to Robinson and the fact that there was some contact between the two men in this period led to speculation within the DUP as to whether Bell was acting as part of some wider plan."
McBride stresses the close relationship Bell had with his former party leader, who had been "feared and respected within the DUP rather than loved".
He writes: "Robinson did not have many close friends and was wary of several senior colleagues whose loyalty he suspected.
"But Bell's devotion to the DUP leader was such that while still a minister - and around the time that RHI was falling apart - he began work on a PhD about his party leader and told colleagues that Robinson had agreed to turn over some of his personal papers to him for the academic study."
The journalist writes that Mr Bell "was closer to Robinson than any other DUP MLA and was reverential towards him".
He says that Mr Bell had employed the former DUP leader's son, Jonathan, as his constituency office manager, and his daughter-in-law as his part-time secretary.
Mr McBride says that when contacted for his book, Robinson "was reluctant to explain why he had discussed with Bell whether to go to The Times or Nolan and whether he was encouraging him to speak out as he did".
Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite was launched last night at a packed event in Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
Comedian Tim McGarry said: "Unlike the RHI legislation she introduced, I hope Arlene Foster actually reads this.
"Sam McBride brilliantly untangles the facts about RHI to reveal a jaw-dropping and occasionally hilarious omnishambles.
"The author has taken the fiendishly complex RHI scandal and made it both comprehensible and shocking. If I were a civil servant, or a DUP spad, or worked at Moy Park, I would demand that all copies of this book were burnt in a 99kw wood-pellet boiler."
The book claims that in his dealings with the BBC, Mr Bell demonstrated "the vanity which had not endeared Bell to many of his party colleagues".
The whistleblower "spoke about himself in the third person, with the journalists attempting to steer him back to the topic in hand".
Mr Bell showed "remarkable trust in the journalists" by handing over the password for his personal email account, which he had used for government business. He gave them permission to search through it for any relevant material, the book says.
Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite by Sam McBride, Merrion Press, £16.99/€18.95