Belfast Telegraph

RHI: Spad's answer to BBC's Nolan highly misleading, says chair

Chairman: Sir Patrick Coghlin
Chairman: Sir Patrick Coghlin
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

RHI Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin yesterday accused former DUP 'Spad' Stephen Brimstone of giving a "highly misleading" answer when questioned by BBC NI's Stephen Nolan over the failed scheme.

Mr Brimstone, a former special advisor to then first minister Arlene Foster, was quizzed about a "heated meeting" between Ms Foster and Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell.

He was asked if he had been a witness to a confrontation in February 2016 between the two DUP ministers about the RHI.

Mr Bell previously told the Inquiry he argued "as passionately as I could" for the RHI's closure during the meeting, but Mrs Foster was "highly agitated and angry". And the DUP leader told the inquiry on Tuesday that Mr Bell "stood with his chest pushed out and was shouting".

Mr Bell has told the Inquiry that Mr Brimstone was present, and when asked about the argument yesterday Mr Brimstone replied he remembered an "angry" meeting. But he stated it was not about the RHI and was instead about a trade mission to Canada Mr Bell had just returned from.

However, in his answer to the BBC in December 2016, Mr Brimstone had said he "did not witness any such exchange" between the two former ministers. Sir Patrick said the answer given to the BBC was "highly misleading if what you say now is true".

The chairman said he found "great difficulty" in understanding why Mr Brimstone couldn't answer a "very important" question "properly". Mr Brimstone said he didn't feel the BBC "needed to know about any other matters that were being discussed at that meeting" and insists he answered the question "accurately".

"Why not just answer it fully?" Sir Patrick asked.

He said he felt if he had said more, it would have "opened up a whole load of other questions".

The BBC's Nolan Show had also asked Mr Brimstone if anyone in his family had benefited from the RHI scheme.

The Inquiry heard Mr Brimstone had drafted an answer saying that he benefited and his installation was compliant with the scheme's rules, and he passed that to the senior DUP Spad Timothy Johnston with the note: "Let me know if you are content."

Sir Patrick asked if Mr Brimstone's responses were being "carefully monitored" by Mr Johnston.

"You wanted to make sure that Timothy Johnston was content with your answers which were to be given to the BBC," the Inquiry chair said. "In making him content you were answering this question in an untransparent way, in a limited way."

Mr Brimstone said at that state he was under "no obligation" to anyone as he had left his special adviser position and the DUP.

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