Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

DUP sweating over Stephen Nolan's secret RHI tapes

Stephen Nolan
Stephen Nolan

ByJane Fletcher and Leona O'Neill

The DUP is sweating over more RHI revelations from secret recordings made by party rebel Jonathan Bell.

Sunday Life understands that a number of tapes covertly recorded by Bell in conversation with top civil servants and party figures including former leader and ex-First Minister Peter Robinson were handed over to BBC presenter Stephen Nolan around the time of his bombshell interview with Bell in 2016 at the height of the scandal.

The ongoing inquiry has heard about some of Bell's recordings - but sources close to the former Enterprise Minister have told Sunday Life there were multiple tapes.

The DUP fears what details might be revealed - and a source says they are terrified that Nolan (right) could be sitting on something explosive that could be revealed when the inquiry is over.

There is no love lost between the two sides - the DUP have been boycotting Nolan for more than a year now in the wake of his investigations into the Cash for Ash outrage.

But BBC presenter Nolan was uncharacteristically tight-lipped last night about the tapes and refused to answer if Mr Bell had handed them over for broadcasting.

Last week the former permanent secretary of Stormont's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) claimed that Jonathan Bell "covertly" recorded their conversations in a move which he branded "profoundly disturbing".

In a written statement published online as part of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry, Dr Andrew McCormick claimed that Mr Bell also admitted to recording conversations with his then party colleague Carla Lockhart MLA.

On the issue, Nolan told Sunday Life: "They have been published, as far as I know, by the RHI Inquiry. I think any decisions as to what we would do on air with any RHI material we have would be a matter for the BBC. It would not be a decision for me."

Nolan (45), whose BBC One show Top Table returns to our screens this Wednesday, said he is currently glued to the RHI Inquiry.

"I'm taking a very close interest in the RHI Inquiry," he said.

"I think Sir Patrick Coghlan and his team are an exceptional team. Some people at night are watching Netflix. I'm watching the RHI Inquiry, because I think it is an inquiry of integrity, and obviously what I'm doing is watching very closely. Many of the documents that they are now looking at, I had a couple of years ago. What I didn't have at the time was the opportunity that the inquiry has of cross-referencing everything with the witnesses."

He said that while DUP members do not appear on his show "because they are not allowed to", his phone is red hot with phone calls off the record.

"I would much rather be fighting for the public in an honourable way than being cosy with any politician," Nolan said, adding that he doesn't know if Arlene Foster will ever speak to him again.

"That is a matter for Arlene. If Arlene ever wants to talk to me again then I will talk to her. The DUP stopped engaging with me after my coverage of RHI and that is a matter for them. I was a journalist doing my job. As soon as they want to engage again, no problem.

"Whether it's the DUP, or any other political party, my priority is to be fair to them but making sure that they answer the public's questions. No matter what that then follows from that, if I keep on doing the job fairly, then they can huff and puff and do what they want.

"But my phone very rarely stops [ringing with] people from the DUP phoning me from behind the scenes."

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