Belfast Telegraph

RHI: Wilson 'appalled at Bell's lack of preparation for Stormont meeting'

Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson
Jonathan Bell
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP's chief executive has said that Sammy Wilson was "appalled" at the lack of preparation Jonathan Bell did for one Stormont meeting.

In his witness statement to the RHI Inquiry, Timothy Johnston said Mr Bell was a junior minister in the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister at the time.

He said he had told former First Minister Peter Robinson that he didn't think Mr Bell was "a suitable candidate" to be appointed Minister of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry (Deti).

He claimed that fellow special adviser Richard Bullick shared that assessment.

"Mr Bell's approach to reading, questioning, and engagement was known to me to be very poor during his time as a junior minister in Stormont Castle. I have no first-hand knowledge of his work pattern when he moved to Deti but I suspect it did not change," Mr Johnston said.

He claimed he "never found Mr Bell to be interested in detail". He said it was a matter for the inquiry, but he believed the former Deti Minister's "lack of attention to detail and engagement more generally must have had an adverse impact in respect of the RHI scheme".

Mr Johnston said Mr Bell "reminded all those to whom he came into contact with that HE was a minister". He said he didn't consider anyone other than Peter Robinson "would have been in a position to instruct or make a demand of Mr Bell".

He described the working relationship between Mr Bell and his Deti spad Timothy Cairns as a "fractious" one marred by a lack of mutual trust.

Following a heated argument between the two men in London, Mr Johnston said: "Party officers were appalled at the behaviour of both men, but took the firm view that they were not in a position to be able to make a determination as to who was to blame, or indeed that it was appropriate to do so."

He said that at a meeting with Mr Robinson to discuss his behaviour, Mr Bell "was displaying the characteristics of someone who struggled to contain aggression when confronted with issues about his temper".

He claimed Mr Bell had once allegedly "shouted loudly, and was claimed to have acted in an intimidatory manner, towards a previous adviser to him, Ms Emma Little-Pengelly".

Mr Johnston said he now believed it was "a mistake for Mr Cairns and Mr Bell to continue to work together". With hindsight, he said he thought it was "a mistake to not have instigated a more formal process within the party" and also potentially Deti to look into Mr Bell's alleged behaviour.

Recalling a stormy encounter between Mrs Foster and the Deti Minister at Stormont, Mr Johnston claimed: "There was a very aggressive period of shouting by Mr Bell at the First Minister but things did calm down eventually. I recall intervening on several occasions to try to calm the atmosphere."

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