Belfast Telegraph

RHI: DUP threatened me with legal action, says author McBride of book about boiler scandal

Sam McBride
Sam McBride
Andrew Crawford
Arlene Foster

By Gillian Halliday

The journalist behind a new book on the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal has revealed that he was "threatened" with legal action by DUP figures.

Sam McBride, political editor of the News Letter, branded the threat "spurious" yesterday after tweeting claims DUP leader Arlene Foster and four of her party colleagues had taken legal advice in relation to his book, Burned.

Explaining Mrs Foster and other figures had declined to be interviewed for his highly-acclaimed book, he revealed he had subsequently received legal correspondence sent on their behalf.

According to an apparent excerpt he posted on Twitter, the DUP members were "fully prepared" to issue legal proceedings "in the event that the publication of inaccurate and defamatory material occurs".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McBride stressed his book was a non-partisan investigation into 'cash-for-ash' allegations.

"This book was never intended as any sort of hatchet job on the DUP, Arlene Foster, the Civil Service or anyone else who features in the story and I have sought to speak to all sides to understand what really happened," he said.

"I made that clear to Mrs Foster and her colleagues when I asked them questions about what they had done. And so I am therefore disappointed that rather than answer what I believe were reasonable questions in the public interest, they responded with what I believe to be a spurious legal threat."

One question the journalist posed to Mrs Foster was on how many occasions did the DUP leader "accept a free Christmas turkey, or other gifts, from Moy Park", he revealed on Twitter.

The political editor said many of the DUP leader's senior colleagues had trusted him to "accurately convey their perspectives".

"Multiple DUP figures have publicly or privately acknowledged that I have done my best to honestly report this scandal and tried to do justice to the complexity of a story which is far more nuanced than the simple 'Foster is to blame' narrative pushed by some of the DUP's opponents," he explained.

The book's relevations have been making headlines, including the claim that relatives of former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford stood to earn £6m from the installation of 11 RHI boilers had the scheme progressed as planned.

The claim, published in the Irish News yesterday, came on the same day as the Belfast Telegraph reported 'Burned' claimed DUP whistleblower, Jonathan Bell recorded a conversation with former party leader, Peter Robinson. The discussion focused on whether Bell should take the allegations to the BBC or The Times.

Mr Crawford served as a special adviser or 'spad' to Mrs Foster at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the RHI scheme was introduced.

He resigned in January 2017 after he was named in Stormont's Public Accounts Committee as attempting to delay the introduction of cost controls, something Mr Crawford has repeatedly denied.

The subsequent RHI Inquiry heard Mr Crawford's brother and two cousins were among the family members who had received boilers.

The journalist revealed the DUP's legal threat had actually heightened interest in his book.

"In the last 24 hours I have been inundated with messages ... from people telling me that they are buying the book because of this attempt to stifle important elements of what really went on."

A DUP spokesperson said Mr McBride's legal threat claim had been referred to a legal representative who declined to make a comment at this time.

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