Belfast Telegraph

RHI inquiry: 'I am victim of massive DUP smear campaign' claims Jonathan Bell

By Mark Edwards

Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell has claimed he is the victim of a "massive smear campaign" at the hands of the DUP while giving evidence to the RHI inquiry.

In an explosive morning of evidence, Mr Bell also denied accusations by his then special adviser Timothy Cairns that he attempted to break his finger and swung a punch at him during a trip to London.

Mr Bell was appointed Minister for the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) replacing Arlene Foster and remained in the post until May 2016. It was during this time that he ended the lucrative tariffs in the RHI scheme before closing it down.

He told the inquiry that when he decided to close the scheme down, the DUP began to brief against him in the media.

He said: "They knew the information I was given was correct. Hundred of millions of pounds would be taken out of the Northern Ireland budget and if they couldn't discredit the message they had to discredit the messenger."

He also claimed that a journalist "from a multi-national corporation" was advising the DUP on how to destroy him by "attacking his Christian faith".

Mr Cairns, in written evidence claimed Mr Bell bullied him and had attempted to break his finger and swung a punch at him.

Jonathan Bell (left) and his solicitor Denis Moloney arrive at the RHI inquiry (Niall Carson/PA)

When asked about this incident while giving evidence, Mr Bell said: "The allegation that I tried to break a finger or any other bone, or even attempted to, is untrue and is completely without foundation and has no basis whatsoever in fact.

"I have never tried to break anybodies finger and never would."

He added that it was "completely without basis in fact or law" that he attempted to use physical violence against Mr Cairns.

He added: "I am across newspapers as having thrown a punch, which I have never, ever done."

Mr Bell also claimed he had seen evidence that Mr Cairns told DUP special adviser Timothy Johnston and DUP leader Arlene Foster that he would "fit his story" to whatever the party narrative about the RHI scandal was.

Mr Bell, replying to David Scoffield QC regarding text messages sent by Mr Cairns, said: "I regard what you have said as a fitting of me up. His words to colleagues that you have provided to me was 'I will fit my story to whatever the party narrative is to be'".

Mr Bell also claimed that a senior official within the Executive Office was briefing that he was a "monster that had to be put to sleep."

"I have to say to you, I am just one boy, I can't operate against the Executive Office," he told the inquiry.

Mr Bell also claimed that the DUP offered a newspaper an exclusive story about him being a bully, if they used the headline "Bully boy Bell".

"I fear I have been the victim of a massive smear campaign, and I fear this is part of the smear campaign," he said.

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