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Top civil servant apologises for memo confusion

A senior civil servant has apologised to a Stormont committee after a crunch memo on the burst pipes crisis could not be located for a short period.

Malcolm McKibbin, the permanent secretary of the Department for Regional Development, said he was sorry for the confusion after he and Minister Conor Murphy told the committee on Wednesday they did not have the memo.

Sent on December 23, the note said NI Water staff and contractors have been put on “high alert in readiness for a Major Incident Plan response to thaw conditions predicted to set in during the Christmas weekend and Public Holiday period”.

It added: “Staff, equipment and materials have been organised to respond.”

The memo was written by NI Water’s head of customer services, Sara Venning, who crucially calculated that the company was well-placed to respond to burst pipes and any loss of supply.

Mr McKibbin explained: ”We received a memo from a NIW public affairs officer on December 23 which contained a copy of the report Sara had sent to the NIW Board of Directors. As it was unsigned and not addressed to the Board, and sent to us by a public affairs officer, we did not recognise this as Sara's note to the NIW Board.

“It turns out that Sara had sent the same report to the Board attached to her memo and that this memo had not been included in the correspondence sent to DRD. Hence the confusion. I apologise to the committee,” Mr McKibben added

SDLP member Conall McDevitt said: “The fact that neither the Permanent Secretary or Minister knew that a crucial memo had been received when in fact it had raises serious questions about |internal communications in |the DRD.”

Belfast Telegraph