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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford answers questions from the inquiry
  3. Inquiry set up after public concern over scheme's huge projected overspend
  4. Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Patrick Coghlin chairing inquiry at Stormont
  5. Public evidence sessions expected to last until well into 2018

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Leanna Byrne

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all folks!

    Stormont

    This afternoon's session was all about Dr Crawford's correspondence, but after the final break it became much slower, more technical and less dramatic than this morning.

    Tomorrow we kick off at 09:45 and will be covering an overview of inquiry phases three and four.

    See you tomorrow!

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    The Stormont Senate chamber

    Arlene Foster's DUP adviser passed a privileged legal letter about a controversial planning case to the lobbyist son of Peter Robinson, the inquiry was told.

    The information emerged from a trawl of deleted emails sent by adviser Andrew Crawford.

    Dr Crawford told the inquiry he may have been asked to provide the information by either the then First Minister Peter Robinson or his then adviser Richard Bullick.

    In February 2015, Dr Crawford sent an email with the legal letter attached to Gareth Robinson, a lobbyist and son of Peter Robinson.

    Gareth Robinson ran a lobbying and public relations firm called Verbatim Communications.

  3. 'The picture gets starker and starker'

    Mr Aiken says this represents the summation of evidence on the separation of the domestic and non-domestic schemes, and the end of Pase 2 of the inquiry.

    He pays tribute to the inquiry staff who have picked through the documentation in minute detail.

    Sir Patrick

    Sir Patrick comments that "the extraordinary nature of what has happened here just becomes starker and starker with the more material you obtain".

  4. Mr Aiken tidies up

    Cleaning materials

    We're back from the afternoon tea break and Dr Crawford has left the building, or at least the chamber.

    Mr Aiken is dealing with some housekeeping.

    He explains that the inquiry has received various written witness statements in the course of its proceedings.

    He gives a rough outline of some of these in connection with the matter of note-taking in departmental meetings, and the question of the decoupling of the domestic and non-domestic RHI schemes.

  5. 'Did you continue to release documents?'

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Sir Patrick winds up the questioning by asking Dr Crawford if he continued to release government material to third parties after he moved to other departments - namely the departments of agriculture and finance.

    There is a pause before he replies:

    "I would have had engagement with various players. I don't recall releasing any material but I am conscious of my previous statement.

    "So, I'm not going to sit here and say 'No, I didn't release any material', but I don't believe there was any sensitive material released.

  6. 'What was the perceived benefit?'

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    Mr Aiken puts it to Dr Crawford that there must have been some perceived benefit for the sharing of government information.

    "There must have been, otherwise you wouldn't do it," says Mr Aiken.

    Dr Crawford there was no benefit other than advising the minister. Take a press release as an example, he says, if it is distributed to other stakeholders there would then be less negative media coverage for the minister.

    Mr Aiken asks what kind of benefit would come from providing Mr Robinson with advanced notice of a government publication.

    Dr Crawford says that in this case he was engaging with energy companies, who would in turn provide him with information about the industry that he could relay back to the minister.

    Mr Aiken asks whether Minister Foster was aware that Dr Crawford was distributing government documents to outside parties.

    Dr Crawford says while Mrs Foster was aware he attended meetings, she was unaware he was providing them with documents.

  7. 'I'm not calling you a rogue'

    Mr Aiken asks Dr Crawford if he knows of other SPADs sending out information to people or organisations outside of government.

    Dr Crawford says that, due to the nature of the SPAD role, he would be surprised if his colleagues did not send documents to outsiders.

    Mr Aiken stresses that he is trying to be fair to Dr Crawford and says that one interpretation of events is that Dr Crawford was a "rogue operator" sending material outside despite knowing the rules, or that this is a normal pattern of behaviour.

    Passing documents

    "I don't believe I was rogue," says Dr Crawford.

    "I'm not calling you a rogue," says Mr Aiken.

    Dr Crawford laughs: "I appreciate that".

    Sir Patrick cuts in to put a stop to this line of questioning. "It is not a matter for this inquiry to see how other departments in this devolved government operate," he says.

  8. 'Officials are under incredibly strict rules'

    Dr Cawford accepts that Mr Robinson's commercial clients received an advantage from his actions.

    "They got two days of advantage to a consultation that lasted six weeks," he says.

    Mr Aiken asks what the benefit was to Dr Crawford, or to the department.

    He says there was no advantage other than building a relationship "so that I could get a two-way flow of information to help me make decisions".

    Dame Una O'Brien

    Panel member Dame Una O'Brien puts it to the witness that by "bending the rules" it potentially puts companies "under some sort of obligation to you in the future".

    Dr Crawford says he doesn't agree.

    Dame Una says: "That's why there are rules to prevent this from happening".

    "That's why civil servants are under incredibly strict rules not to do this," she adds.

  9. Meeting with Mr Robinson's clients

    Handshake

    Communications with Gareth Robinson and Dr Crawford are under the microscope of the inquiry again.

    Patrick McClughan of green energy firm Gaelectric and Richard Green of renewable energy company Lightsource, two of Mr Robinson's clients, met Dr Crawford.

    Prior to the meeting, Dr Crawford sent Mr Robinson of a DECC draft publication on renewable energy.

    Mr Aiken queries why Dr Crawford would have sent this to Mr Robinson to show to his clients before the documents were published publicly.

    Dr Crawford says Mr Robinson had asked for him to meet with his clients and that the documents were sent on Friday when they were to be published the following Monday.

  10. 'Another document sent to the UFU'

    Yet another communication to an outside body - this time from February 2010.

    Chris Osborne of the UFU contacted a DETI official asking when a response to a consultation on electricity will be available as he's been told it will be published "today".

    The official, Michael Harris, replied saying he was unable to provide a copy of the document as it wasn't ready for release yet.

    Long shot of inquiry

    The following day Dr Crawford was sent a draft copy of the document for clearing.

    He forwarded it to Mr Osborne the same day.

    "Why did you do that?" Mr Aiken asks.

    Dr Crawford replies:

    "It was going out the next day. We knew we would have to manage this particular constituency and it was to help us do that."

  11. 'Sent on my own initiative'

    We're back from lunch and straight back into the questioning.

    Mr Aiken questions Dr Crawford on another communication.

    This was sent in March 2015 between Dr Crawford and Wesley Aston, chief executive of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU).

    Dr Crawford forwarded Mr Aston an embargoed press release on the Agri-food Strategy Board.

    Cattle

    Mr Aiken asks why Dr Crawford sent the embargoed press release to someone outside of government.

    "This was a positive news story that we wanted support from the farmers' union on," says Dr Crawford.

    Dr MacLean asks why it was not the DETI press office that sent this embargoed press release on to the UFU. "Who decided that it was you instead of the press office?" he asks.

    Dr Crawford says it was on his own initiative.

  12. Lunch time

    That was a heavy session of questioning.

    Now, time to head down the canteen.

    The inquiry will be back for more at 14:00 - join us again then.

    Sandwich
  13. 'Scaremongering about the scheme'

    Mr Aiken refers now to an email from Lavelle McIlwrath, a former DUP councillor who worked in MLA William Irwin's office.

    In a PS Mr Lavelle noted: "Saw another piece scaremongering about the biomass scheme in the paper last week".

    Would it not have been normal for Dr Cawford to follow this up?

    Mr Aiken asks a question

    The witness says he suspects he would have picked up the phone and spoken to him.

    "I don't recall that particular discussion with Lavelle," Dr Crawford says.

    "I can't give any greater clarity on that," he adds.

  14. 'Just normal practice'

    Mr Aiken pulls up another email exchange with Dr Crawford's mother's email account.

    This time he has sent on a draft press release on a cross-border merger of the dairy co-operatives, Ballyrashane and Town of Monaghan.

    The email is sent while Dr Crawford is still in the Middle East on a trade mission.

    The press release is embargoed until 2pm the next day.

    Dr Crawford says he sent the press release so his brother could print it off in his mother's house.

    Dairy farm

    Mr Aiken says this correspondence from the DETI press office was also forwarded on to Dr Crawford's sister.

    Dr Crawford says this was for the attention of his brother-in-law.

    Mr Aiken observes that Dr Crawford was sending out information to family members and to Mr Robinson and that it was "just normal practice".

    Dr Crawford responds saying it is for the inquiry to determine the appropriateness of these exchanges.

  15. 'My mother had no interest in the information'

    Mr Aiken moves on to another sequence of communication - this time between Dr Crawford and his mother's email account.

    One evening, in January 2015, Dr Crawford sent five emails containing briefings on tourism and trade before he was to travel with Mrs Foster on a trade mission.

    Computer

    Dr Crawford explains: "When I was adviser to the minister, I stayed in a house in Belfast and that’s where I had done most of my work. However I would have went home at the weekends to Tyrone, where I still class as my home.

    "On the 25th of January you can see that we were leaving to travel to the trade mission and I would have met the minister at her home, we would have traveled down through Dublin airport.

    "There were a number of documents that I wanted to review when I was on the flight. There's a desktop computer linked to a printer at home..."

    Dr Crawford says the information was printed and then deleted from his mother's email account.

    "Certainly my mother would have never had any interest in any of this information that was sent."

  16. 'Forwarding on privileged information'

    Gareth and Peter Robinson
    Image caption: Gareth Robinson pictured with his father, former first minister Peter Robinson.

    Mr Aiken questions Dr Crawford why he would forward "privileged" information to someone outside of government.

    Dr Crawford says he cannot remember the conversation he had with Mr Robinson (above) before he sent him over the documents.

    "I believe it was the information in the body of the email that was of value to him. I don’t believe there was any privileged document that was of advantage to him. It would have been more the timeline he was looking for," he says.

    Dr Crawford admits, however, that he should not have sent the information to Mr Robinson.

    Mr Aiken makes the point that Dr Crawford has, on more than one occasion, sent on privileged information to persons outside of government.

    Dr Crawford responds saying: "I don't think it was a widespread habit." He adds that there is context for each example.

  17. 'Legal documents sent to Peter Robinson's son'

    In a previous witness session Mr Aiken discussed with Dr Crawford an instance where he sent docuents regarding RHI to his cousin.

    In that session the witness said:

    "I don't believe I sent any other documents out of the system in relation to any other topic."

    Mr Aiken takes us to documents relating to a court case between DETI and the Department of the Environment.

    The departments were in dispute over a development at the Sprucefield shopping centre in Lisburn.

    Dr Crawford

    In January 2015, a letter was sent to DETI from a solicitor in the Departmental Solicitor's Office regarding the case.

    Dr Crawford subsequently forwarded the document without comment to Gareth Robinson at a PR/lobbying firm called Verbatim Communications.

    Mr Robinson is the son of the former DUP leader, Peter Robinson.

    "Why did you do that?" asks Mr Aiken.

    Dr Crawford says he only heard about this document yesterday.

    He says he can only assume that Mr Robinson wanted to know about "the process" of the case "in terms of timelines of the legal case and whatnot".

    "Why I done it or what the sequence of events was I'm not sure," the witness says.

    "Obviously Gareth was Peter's son and because of that I tended to respond to his queries probably quicker than I would have replied to other PR companies," he adds.

  18. 'Difficult to understand why articles were ignored'

    Mr Aiken puts it to Dr Crawford that the Guardian article warns against people profiteering in the GB scheme - a scheme that had cost controls.

    The NI scheme was running at the same time with no controls.

    Dr Crawford says that if the newspaper articles had been brought to his attention through submissions from officials "it certainly would have provoked the minister and myself to ask questions".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Sir Patrick says the implication is that "virtually nobody in this department from the minister down read or understood these three articles".

    He says that "the alternative is that the articles were actively suppressed".

    "It's very difficult to understand that the standard of government is such that three successive national newspaper articles were ignored," the inquiry chair concludes.

  19. Guardian articles

    We turn to another newspaper article about the GB RHI, this time from the Guardian in January 2015.

    Mr Aiken reads aloud much of the detail within the article, which is critical of green biomass boilers and specifically the RHI scheme.

    "So far, most RHI payments appear to have been banked by wealthy landowners," reads the article.

    A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesperson says in the article that the RHI’s “primary objective” was to contribute to the UK’s 2020 renewable targets in a cost-effective and environmentally beneficial way.

    Dr Crawford says he did not read the article.

    The Guardian

    Another Guardianarticle, this one a comment piece, reads: "So rich people now run their oversized boilers at full steam, and leave the windows open to cool the house.

    "The returns are astonishing: 20, 30, sometimes 40%."

  20. 'Flipping on a draft press release'

    Email

    Mr Aiken puts it to Dr Crawford that his way of communicating with Mr Dobbin was "too casual".

    "What was about to be a public press release by the department, you're flipping on to someone," says Mr Aiken.

    Mr Aiken adds that the content of the draft press release is somewhat irrelevant. The fact is, he says, Mr Dobbin is holding a draft communication from a government department.

    Dr Crawford says he appreciates this assessment.