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Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for this week...

    Another week at the RHI Inquiry comes to an end, and with no sittings next week it'll be Tuesday 13 March when it returns.

    The inquiry has yet to announce what witnesses will be appearing then.

    A microphone

    But it appears it will be representatives from the scheme administrator Ofgem or the former DETI permanent secretary David Sterling, who now heads the civil service.

    So, until then it's goodbye from us!

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    A former senior civil servant told the inquiry that cost controls should have been introduced to the RHI scheme in early 2014 and he has no explanation as to why that didn't happen.

    The RHI Inquiry panel

    David Thomson was one of three top managers DETI at the time.

    He said there had been "no conscious decision" to defer planned budget protection measures for the project.

  3. Inquiry counsel outlining inquiry's second phase

    With Mr Thomson's evidence at an end, junior counsel Mr Aiken slides into the Senate chamber to fill the final 40 minutes of today's session.

    Inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean can be overheard joking to the chair Sir Patrick Coghlin: "He's not going to let us off early, is he?"

    Mr Benn

    Mr Aiken makes a reference to the Mr Benn cartoons of his childhood, saying: "As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared."

    He's here to pick up where he left off a couple of weeks ago in his summary of the inquiry's second phase.

  4. 'Incorrect decision to allow RHI staff to leave'

    It was an "incorrect decision" to allow the three most hands-no civil servants working on the RHI scheme to leave within a few months of each other, says Mr Thomson.

    As the inquiry heard from one of their successors yesterday, the lack of staffing continuity "significantly contributed to the problems that arose" in the scheme further down the line.

    In November 2013, Ms Hepper (below), who headed energy division, left after a competitive promotion, and Mr Thomson says it was "a general policy" that if someone was promoted "you couldn't block it".

    Fiona Hepper

    Joanne McCutcheon and Peter Hutchinson made up the two-person team who'd worked up the RHI scheme from its outset but they left within a matter of weeks of each other in spring 2014.

    There was a practice within the department, Mr Thomson says, that if a staff member left "there wouldn't be anybody else move within five or six months".

    He says he "wouldn't have agreed to" both Joanne McCutcheon and Peter Hutchinson so closely together departing in 2015 because it "just sounds too risky for a small team like that".

  5. 'I don't know why controls weren't introduced'

    Mr Lunny asks the witness whether he can recall any conscious decision being made to defer cost controls and to proritise the introduction of the domestic RHI scheme.

    "No, I am not aware of any," says Mr Thomson.

    Mr Lunny

    Dame Una asks if he explain why cost controls weren't added to the scheme.

    "I genuinely don't know," he says, adding that they should have been introduced in early 2014.

  6. 'Questions to answer over lack of cost controls'

    £50 notes

    There are "questions that need to be answered" as to why the addition of control controls to the RHI scheme were "forgotten about or relegated behind" other issues says Mr Lunny.

    Budget protection measures were included in a public consultation in 2013 but they didn't feature in submissions to the minister after that and ultimately never materialised.

  7. 'I take some responsibility for lack of review'

    Mr Thomson accepts some responsibility for the awareness of the need for the RHI scheme to be reviewed being lost between one DETI energy boss and her successor.

    Dame Una O'Brien

    Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien (above) says he was "the bridge" between Ms Hepper, who quit in November 2013 and Mr Mills, who replaced her in January 2014.

    Mr Thomson says he "knew the review had to be done".

  8. 'Need for review should have been handover'

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin asks Mr Thomson if he believes Mr Mills should have been informed of the need for a review by Ms Hepper when she left DETI.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    "The direct communication to him about the need for a review and when it should start and finish should have come in the handover from Fiona?"

    Mr Thomson agrees.

  9. 'Minister's answer refers to a review of RHI'

    In 2014, then Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay (below, right) put an assembly question to the minister Arlene Foster, asking about the amount of energy generated from renewable sources.

    Part of the answer, drafted by Mr Mills, said: "DETI will carry out analysis as part of a future review of the renewable heat incentive."

    Daithí McKay

    Mr Thomson says that refers to a programme for government target for 2015.

    That would have meant the review would have had to take place in time to judge whether the scheme was on target.

  10. 'Never aware of decision to postpone RHI review'

    In internal DETI documents, the date for the review of the RHI scheme was set as early 2015, with any subsequent changes to be made to the scheme the next year.

    Asked if there was any "change of plan", Mr Thomson says he was never aware of any "conscious decision" being made to defer the review for a year from 2014, as originally planned, to 2015, or to "narrow [it] down".

    A magnifying glass

    Mr Thomson recalls a meeting with Ms Hepper just before she left DETI in November 2013 at which RHI was discussed, and he says "the review was very much a critical part of that" at the time.

    If someone had made a decision was made to postpone the review, Mr Thomson says he should've been told about it.

    "Somewhere along the line someone is making these decisions," says inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin.

  11. 'I'd given no thought whatsoever to RHI'

    A review of the RHI scheme had been due to take place in 2014 - that was one of the conditions on which it had been given approval by Stormont's finance department - but it never happened.

    Mr Thompson was asked by PwC investigators in 2015 whether he was aware of the review needing to happen and he told them he couldn't recall.

    The RHI Inquiry

    "They were asking me all sorts of things... - apart from a doorstepping in relation to the (BBC) Spotlight programme, I had given no thought whatsoever to RHI," he tells the inquiry.

    The witness adds: "Clearly it's not a very satisfactory evidence. I knew... the review was so very central."

    He says that if he'd been given a day's notice about the sort of things PwC was going to ask him about he could have reflected and realised what the investigators were talking about.

  12. 'Didn't intend to be critical of energy team boss'

    Mr Thomson told PwC that Fiona Hepper - who was the head of of DETI's energy team during the time the RHI scheme was being set up and opened - "kept in touch but not in the detail".

    "She would have sauntered into my office," he told the investigators.

    The RHI inquiry

    But his relationship with John Mills, who replaced Ms Hepper as energy team boss in January 2014, was more formal: "I would never have seen John Mills unless I went looking for him."

    Looking back what he told PwC about those individuals, the witness tells the inquiry that "different people have different working styles".

    He says he wasn't "intending to be critical" of Mr Mills.

  13. 'Wasn't happy about giving interview to investigators'

    In 2015, the professional services firm PwC was called in by DETI to carry out an internal investigation of the RHI scheme after its major problems emerged.

    Staff were interviewed and Mr Thomson, who by that stage was retired, was also asked by the department to cooperate.

    Men talking

    He tells the inquiry that he "was not overly happy with that" and he initially turned down the request.

    He later agreed to have a "conversation" with the investigators on the basis that the information he gave would be "kept confidential", but he says he was coming to it "cold" because he didn't have the chance to review documents related to the scheme.

    He would've expressed things "differently" if he knew what he was saying was going to be published in a report by the investigators, as later happened.

  14. Former DETI senior manager returns to give evidence

    David Thomson was part of the top management team at DETI from January 2010 until his retirement in 2014.

    In his role at the department, was one level below the then permanent secretary David Sterling, who's now the head of the civil service.

    David Thomson

    Mr Thomson spent a full day before the inquiry on Wednesday, and you can find our coverage of his evidence here.

    Much of the questioning of Mr Thomson on Wednesday was on the resources the department allocated to the team that set up the RHI scheme and why key methods of monitoring the initiative weren't put in place.

    His written witness statements are available on the inquiry's website.

  15. What happened yesterday at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    There was no effective monitoring of the RHI scheme as it began to hit serious problems, the inquiry heard.

    Seamus Hughes

    The civil servant who looked after the day-to-day running of the scheme in 2014 "didn't really understand" what was going on.

    Seamus Hughes said he had not been told to monitor key things like technology types, boiler run times and sizes.

  16. What is the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    An independent inquiry into the RHI scandal was established in January last year by the then finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

    He ordered it in the wake of the huge public concernand what was then a developing political crisis surrounding the scheme.

    The RHI Inquiry began in November and Sir Patrick Coghlin (below), a retired Court of Appeal judge, is its chair and has been given full control over how it will operate.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    It will look at:

    • the design and introduction of the RHI scheme
    • the scheme's initial operation, administration, promotion and supervision
    • the introduction of revised subsidies and a usage cap for new scheme claimants in 2015
    • the scheme's closure

    For more information on the RHI Inquiry,you can read our handy Q&A.

  17. RHI scheme - the fallout

    When the scale of the overspend emerged, public and political concern rocketed.

    As the minister in charge of the Stormont department that set up the RHI scheme, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster faced calls to resign from her role as Northern Ireland's first minister in December 2016.

    Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness

    She resisted, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness then quit as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of what had by then become a full-blown political crisis.

    That move brought about the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. Now, more than a year on from that, Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration.

    You can find much more detail on the RHI scheme in our need-to-know guide.

  18. RHI scheme - the flaws

    The budget of the RHI scheme ran out of control because of critical flaws in the way it was set up.

    Claimants could effectively earn more money the more fuel they burned because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were far greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.

    Burning wood pellets

    The most recent estimate for the overspend was set at £700m, if permanent cost controls aren't introduced.

    The massive overspend bill will have to be picked up by the Northern Ireland taxpayer.

  19. RHI scheme - what was it?

    The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - or RHI for short - came to the fore of the Northern Ireland public's knowledge in late-2016... and the fallout from the scandal attached to it is still being felt in the region's politics today.

    A biomass boiler

    The scheme was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2012, as a way of encouraging businesses to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable sources for generating their heat.

    Those who signed up were offered financial incentives to buy new heating systems and the fuel to run them.

  20. Good morning

    It's still bitterly cold and blustery up on Stormont hill but the snow hasn't caused us or the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry team too many problems, with today's proceedings about to begin.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Returning to the witness chair today is the retired former senior Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) manager David Thomson, who were heard from on Wednesday.

    We'll have a live stream of the events in the Senate chamber and text commentary to keep you updated.