Belfast Telegraph

DUP adviser Andrew Crawford apologises for sending internal RHI documents to relative

By Mark Edwards

A former special adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster has apologised for sending internal documents about the RHI to his cousin.

Dr Andrew Crawford- who was Mrs Foster’s special adviser during her time as minister for the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI)- appeared for the fourth time at the RHI inquiry on Tuesday.

A series of fatal flaws in the design of the scheme exposed Stormont to a huge overspend as it ended up paying out more to applicants than it cost them to buy fuel.

Dr Crawford told the inquiry that his cousin Richard Crawford, a poultry farmer, had asked him for information about the scheme in July 2013 and that he had emailed him an internal document which had not yet been released to the public.

Dr Crawford said: “I shouldn’t have sent them to him. I apologise for it, it was wrong on my behalf. I put that into my second statement [to the inquiry] but I want to put that into the record here today.”

Mr Crawford said that his cousin installed biomass boilers in his poultry shed 12 months after the internal RHI scheme paper had been shared with him. He said he did not know that the RHI  was known as a "lucrative" scheme in agriculture communities at this point in time..

He added: “In no way did Richard get an advantage from this.”

Dr Crawford admitted that he never told Mrs Foster that he had shared the document with his cousin.

Arlene Foster giving evidence at the inquiry

The inquiry also heard that an opportunity to inform Arlene Foster of cost control changes in the RHI scheme in Great Britain was missed after a letter from the UK government’s energy minister was not given to her.

At the end of May 2013 energy minister Greg Barker wrote to Mrs Foster informing her his department was making major cost control changes to the scheme that was running in Great Britain.

The letter was given to DETI officials who were running the RHI scheme in Northern Ireland. However, officials decided there was no need to forward the letter to Mrs Foster as it was similar to an earlier letter from Mr Barker and no action was therefore required.

The inquiry heard that this was not the case and that the earlier letter was about different matters- meaning a chance to tell Mrs Foster about cost controls was missed.

Dr Crawford said Mrs Foster should have seen “all the correspondence” coming from a Westminster department.

Junior counsel Joseph Aiken said: “There is correspondence coming in from a Whitehall minister to the minister of the department and at no stage is the minister of the department seeing that communication, that is dysfunctional.”

Dr Crawford replied: “That is wrong and should not have happened.”

Dr Crawford added that he did not think Mrs Foster saw the correspondence as, out of courtesy, it was her practice to respond to all correspondence from Westminster departments.

The RHI Inquiry was set up to investigate the scheme after its costs spiralled (stock photo)

The inquiry heard that the first time the issue of cost controls was brought up to Mrs Foster was a submission sent to her on June 26, 2013. The submission was drawn up by external energy consultants Cambridge Economic Policy Associate (CEPA).

The report did not expand on the rationale behind introducing cost controls. Asked whether, at the time, he put any importance on cost controls, Dr Crawford said: “I probably didn’t give it a great deal of importance because this was the first time it was highlighted.

"However, I believe it would have registered with me at that time that it was a new proposal that had been introduced, hence I would have requested a follow up meeting in relation to it.”

Dr Crawford said that he did not realise the scheme could be manipulated to make a profit

He said: “I didn’t envisage that the scheme would be structured in such a way that it would pay people to...earn as you burn. I just assumed- wrongly now- that there’d be checks in the system that would stop that from happening.”

However, he admitted to the inquiry that he did not understand “exactly what that meant” or how regulations would prevent costs spiralling.

Mrs Foster will resume giving evidence to the enquiry on Wednesday morning.

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