Belfast Telegraph

Spad 'plotted to film drunk DUP minister'

Messages are revealed as party's chief executive gives inquiry evidence

By Lauren Harte

Newly revealed text messages between two DUP special advisers talked of plans to film former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell "drunk and talking s***" and show the footage to the party's top Spad Timothy Johnston.

The messages were read out as Mr Johnston gave evidence to the RHI Inquiry for the second time yesterday.

Mr Johnston, a former special adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster, is now the party's chief executive. The inquiry heard that Timothy Cairns made the remark about Mr Bell to party colleague Emma Little-Pengelly in the summer of 2015.

Mr Cairns was absent from his role as special adviser in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) around this time after a row in London with Mr Bell.

Mr Cairns told Ms Little-Pengelly, now an MP, that Mr Bell had come out of the RHI scandal "very badly" and that he was reporting all his "transgressions" to Mr Johnston and Mrs Foster. The text also read: "I have made sure Andrew (Crawford) and Arlene (Foster) know he is messing up their department.

"My goal now is he has one year max and done. If I get a chance I am going to film him drunk and talking s*** and show it to TJ (Timothy Johnston)."

In another exchange between Mr Cairns and Ms Little-Pengelly, after his first day back as Mr Bell's Spad, he wrote: "Thankfully I only saw JB (Jonathan Bell) for five minutes. I worked from Netherley (sic).

"I told TJ (Timothy Johnston) I was unhappy with Friday's meeting and how it went. I felt it was unfair and clearly my complaint about JB's temper had not been dealt with. Went down like a fart in a space suit."

'Netherley' is believed to be Netherleigh, Deti's offices near Stormont.

The reference to the Friday meeting was one between Mr Cairns and Mr Bell, in which Mr Johnston tried to get them to reconcile after the fall-out in London in June 2015.

Mr Johnston told the inquiry that he did not think the relationship between Mr Bell and Mr Cairns was dysfunctional at that time.

In another text, Ms Little-Pengelly referred to Mr Bell by the nickname "Ding Dong".

The inquiry also heard yesterday that Mr Cairns took references to the Department of Finance and the Office for First Minister and Deputy First Minister being consulted about RHI cost controls out of a submission.

The paper from February 2015 was about the decision to close the scheme without a public consultation. In a later draft, the Department of Finance reference was put back in. In previous evidence, Mr Cairns said he did this to protect Mrs Foster. Mr Bell claimed it was an attempt at "cleansing the record".

Mr Johnston said he struggled "a little bit with the notion how anybody would have thought removing the reference (to Mrs Foster) would have been beneficial or helpful, because the records were always going to be there".

Mr Johnston also addressed claims that the DUP blamed Dr Andrew Crawford, former special adviser to Mrs Foster, for the RHI scandal in a bid to deflect blame from himself.

Dr Crawford quit his Stormont role in January 2017 amid claims that he exerted influence to keep RHI running at an over-generous level for participants.

Mr Johnston said: "People around me genuinely saw how hurt I was with the allegations that were being made.

"I didn't think there was any basis in fact to the allegations.

"At no point did I have any sense there was a party view, it certainly wasn't a First Minister view, that Dr Crawford should be sacrificed to deflect attention from me."

In his closing remarks, Mr Johnston said "lessons had to be learned" from the RHI scandal to "ensure we are never back in this place again" if devolution is restored.

He said this includes issues around Spads, project management and working in a way that is "open but effective". He added: "We do want to see this place back functioning properly and in a way that we don't see mistakes like this made again."

I have made sure Andrew [Crawford] and Arlene [Foster] know he is messing up their department.

My goal now is he has one year max and done. If I get a chance I am going to film him drunk and talking s*** and show it to TJ [Timothy Johnston]

Thankfully I only saw JB [Jonathan Bell] for five minutes. I worked from Netherley (sic). I told TJ [Timothy Johnston] I was unhappy with Friday's meeting and how it went. I felt it was unfair and clearly my complaint about JB's temper hadn't been dealt with. Went down like a f**t in a space suit.

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