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RHI scandal: No prosecution of former DUP minister Simon Hamilton and ex-spad John Robinson over leaks

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Simon Hamilton giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry in October 2018

Simon Hamilton giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry in October 2018

Simon Hamilton giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry in October 2018

A former DUP minister and a senior party official will not face prosecution for leaking emails to the media during the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) controversy.

The news was first confirmed by The Irish News.

Ex-Economy Minister Simon Hamilton and the DUP's head of communications John Robinson, at the time Mr Hamilton's special advisor, posted emails in January 2017 to journalists and the Department for the Economy's permanent secretary, Andrew McCormick.

The move was a bid to deflect attention from the party over the scandal, which centred on a scheme created in 2012 to incentivise the use of renewable heating systems. A flaw in the scheme, however, saw subsidies paid to users that were higher than the cost of the fuel - meaning the more fuel people used, the more money they would receive.

Simon Hamilton admitted to the leaks while giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry in October 2018.

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The emails detailed contacts between civil servants and the agri-food industry during the summer of 2015 and showed how information was inappropriately shared that may have led to a spike in boiler applications the following autumn.

Mr Hamilton said he leaked the emails as they cast doubt on the narrative that DUP special advisors were responsible for the sudden increase in applications.

The former DUP man said the episode was "not his proudest moment" and was the result of his desire to relieve pressure on his party and Andrew McCormick.

"I would set [making the decision to leak] in the context of the time we found ourselves in where we – we being the party – are being assailed on all sides, we are getting hit left, right and centre every day, it seems like every hour of every day, and there isn’t much to fire back, there isn’t much to combat these allegations with,” he said.

“Here is something that is very different to anything that we had had before. Some of arguments that were thrown back before were quite technical or they got lost – this was pretty straightforward to understand.

“Hence we did what we did.”

In a written statement to the inquiry, John Robinson denied breaking civil service rules and said the emails were from "people in the renewable industry discussing conversations they had with civil servants" and not sent by Department for the Economy staff.

He added that he "tried to balance" the public interest in leaking the emails with that of his party.

"Neither of these documents [the leaked emails] were owned by the Department. Whilst I wasn’t entirely comfortable sharing the documents with the media, I was satisfied that both journalists [who the material was sent to] would act in the public interest, test it, and give anyone impacted an opportunity to reply," he said.

The RHI Inquiry's report later branded Mr Hamilton's actions as a "quite extraordinary and unacceptable step for an Executive minister.

Now it has emerged that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has concluded that there is insufficient evidence of any offence being committed.

“The ICO carried out a criminal investigation into a complaint received from the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland, concerning the unlawful obtaining and disclosure of personal data relating to members of the Renewable Heat Initiative (NI) Scheme," a spokepserson said.

“The ICO investigation found that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate allegations that offences contrary to section 55 of the DPA 1998 had been committed. No action will be taken and the case will be closed. Under the Victim’s Code, affected parties have the right to request a review of the decision.”

Simon Hamilton has since left the DUP and is now the chief executive of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and John Robinson has resumed his position as the party's head of communications.


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