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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. Former DUP enterprise minister Jonathan Bell gives evidence for first time
  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 hearings entering critical phase with high-profile witnesses giving evidence

Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today...

    It's fair to say that Jonathan Bell's debut in the witness chair in Stormont's Senate chamber was one of the most eventful of the 85 days of the RHI Inquiry to date.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    He's due to return for another all-day session tomorrow and BBC News NI will bring you every second of it - join us in the morning from 09:45.

    Good evening...

  2. DUP responds to 'sexual misbehaviour' claim

    During his evidence to the inquiry this afternoon, Mr Bell claimed that he'd been told by his adviser Tim Cairns about the "sexual misbehaviour of two DUP ministers".

    The inquiry was quick to move on from that point of Mr Bell's evidence.

    The DUP has responded, saying: "It would not be appropriate to comment on evidence given to the public inquiry outside of the inquiry process.

    "It is important that the inquiry is allowed to complete its work."

  3. Analysis: Huge interest in what Bell had to say

    Conor Macauley

    BBC News NI environment correspondent

    There had been huge interest in what Jonathan Bell would say at the RHI Inquiry.

    Jonathan Bell

    He had, after all, been at the very heart of this scandal after making damaging allegations in an interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan in 2016.

    But today it was allegations about how he had been treated by the DUP after that interview that caused everyone to sit up and take notice.

  4. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    Jonathan Bell claimed that a senior figure in Stormont's Executive Office was briefing against him as a "monster who had to be put to sleep" when he was a DUP minister.

    He said the individual was David Gordon, who headed the communications for the Executive Office in 2016.

    Jonathan Bell

    Mr Bell also alleged that a journalist was briefing the DUP on how to discredit him by attacking his Christian faith.

    It is understood he was referring to David Blevins, the Ireland correspondent at Sky News.

    Sky News said in a statement that the allegation was "completely and utterly untrue".

  5. 'Disappointed profoundly that meeting wasn't recorded'

    There is no written record of the meeting in August 2015 at which Mr Bell gave his approval for cost controls to be added to the RHI scheme.

    Mr Bell says he is "crystal clear" that at that meeting he didn't have a hard copy of the document that outlined the planned changes.

    Jonathan Bell

    "And I'm equally completely baffled that a matter of the magnitude nobody contacted me [about when it was first proposed on 8 July]," he adds.

    But the inquiry panel want to know why he gave his approval without knowing the details about the plan.

    The former minister says he's "disappointed profoundly" that there was no minute of the meeting and "trying to reflect on a meeting of three years ago is extremely difficult".

  6. 'I wasn't told about empty sheds being heated'

    In an email on 20 July about the planned cost controls for the RHI scheme, Arlene Foster's adviser Dr Andrew Crawford told Mr Bell's adviser that there would be a "massive spike in applications" before the changes came into effect.

    Mr Bell says he's "clear" that his adviser Mr Cairns never raised that point with him.

    Burning wood pellets

    On 31 July, Dr Crawford also pointed out that the "problem" with the scheme was that it was offering subsidies that were so lucrative that claimants were being paid to heat empty sheds.

    Again, Mr Bell says he wasn't made aware of that.

  7. 'Concerned that DUP advisers shared my briefing'

    A document that civil servants prepared for Mr Bell outlining the planned cost controls for the RHI scheme was shared by the DETI minister's adviser with other DUP advisers.

    Mr Bell says he wasn't aware that happened at the time and nor did he know about emails exchanges between the advisers about the contents of the paper.

    Folders ina filing cabinet

    He says he's "quite concerned" because other ministers' advisers never sent papers about their portfolios to him for input.

    "You never shared your briefings outside your department," he adds.

  8. 'Officials didn't give answers about RHI budget'

    Mr Bell says he felt frustrated that civil servants in his department were not giving him answers to his questions about budget for the RHI scheme.

    "They said it was basically impossible to state," he adds and it's "completely illogical" to him that he wasn't given the information he wanted.

    Dr Keith MacLean

    Inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean (above) questions how frustrated the witness could have become in this period.

    He points out that Mr Bell has said that he first became aware of the problems with scheme on 24 August and received a revised version of the 8 July submission in the first part of September, just a few days later.

  9. 'I fulfilled every function asked of me'

    In his evidence to the inquiry, Mr Cairns says that one reason why there was a delay in introducing cost controls to the RHI scheme was that there was a difficulty with the minister's availability.

    The adviser says Mr Bell was away from his department for long periods over the summer of 2015.

    A man signing a document

    Mr Bell rejects that suggestion - he says he had been on a family holiday and spent a week at a church conference in Portstewart but he "fulfilled every function that the department for me to fulfil".

    "I was available for every meeting, every photocall, every business... [civil servants] could've contacted me at any time.... but there was no attempt to contact me, I believe."

  10. 'Major row between top civil servant and Foster's adviser'

    Mr Bell says he was told there was a "major row" between one of Stormont's most senior civil servants and Arlene Foster's DUP adviser.

    David Sterling - then the head at the Department of Finance, now the head of the whole Northern Ireland Civil Service - and Dr Andrew Crawford (below) had been arguing about the RHI scheme, he claims.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    He says that his adviser Mr Cairns told him that Mr Sterling had "shouted" at Dr Crawford.

    He says he was told that Mr Sterling told Dr Crawford: "You kept this scheme open for the benefit of your family and you've caused significant budgetary crisis in Northern Ireland."

  11. 'Bell was compiling dossier against DUP'

    Mr Bell "would often make allegations about DUP members", according to the evidence his adviser has given to the inquiry.

    He had "started to get more and more agitated" about the party, says Mr Cairns in his written statement, and was "compiling the information and would be presenting a dossier".

    Mr Bell said that he'd been told that three advisers "had acted fraudulently in relation to RHI", says the adviser in his evidence.

    As has been the theme throughout today, Mr Bell's account is at odds with that of Mr Cairns - he says that it was his adviser who had provided the information to him.

    Jonathan Bell

    Mr Bell also tells the inquiry that his adviser told him "inappropriately, in garish and lurid detail" about the "sexual misbehaviour of two DUP ministers".

    But he's quickly shut down by the inquiry's senior counsel Mr Scoffield and the chair Sir Patrick Coghlin, who says: "This inquiry is not some form of media record for people making allegations and counter allegations."

    Edit at 18:10: In response, the DUP issued a statement stating: "It would not be appropriate to comment on evidence given to the public inquiry, outside of the inquiry process.

    "It is important that the inquiry is allowed to complete its work."

  12. 'It's not for you to ask the questions'

    The inquiry barrister exerts his authority and reminds Mr Bell of the rules in the Senate chamber after the former minister asks one too many questions.

    David Scoffield

    "I want to remind you of the nature of the procedure in which we're involved here," says Mr Scoffield firmly.

    "It's not for you to ask the questions - it's for you to answer the questions."

  13. 'Can't say when conflict of interest was discussed'

    One of Mr Bell's central claims about the RHI debacle is that DUP advisers worked against him to prevent the addition of cost controls to the scheme.

    In his written evidence, he says that his adviser Mr Cairns told him that DUP adviser Timothy Johnston was "not allowing the issue to be progressed as he and his brother-in-law John Robinson" - also a DUP adviser - "had interests in the chicken industry".

    Chickens

    Asked when Mr Cairns said that, the former minister says he "can't precisely date that - all I can tell you is it it occurred".

    Mr Scoffield points out that's it's important for the inquiry to establish a firm date but the witness says "not prepared to speculate" and can't say whether it was summer 2015 or winter 2016.

  14. 'It was top official's job to deliver RHI submission'

    Mr Bell says it was job of the DETI permanent secretary Dr Andrew McCormick to get the July 8 submission about the planned cost controls for the RHI scheme to him.

    "This is urgent action on budgetary issues that we don't have and has major legal implications," he adds.

    The RHI Inquiry

    It's pointed out to him that the permanent secretary was on holiday and Mr Bell says that whoever was deputising for Dr McComick should therefore have been responsible.

    Mr Scoffield says the evidence suggests that it would be unusual for the civil servants to bypass the minister's adviser completely or to give the minister the submission at the same time as the adviser.

    By far the most common practice was to give the submission to the adviser first, he says.

  15. 'Adviser's account of meeting completely made up'

    Mr Bell's adviser Tim Cairns says in his evidence to the inquiry that he sat down with the minister and went through "in detail" the 8 July submission about the RHI scheme cost controls the day after it was issued.

    Disagreeing with that, Mr Bell says he's "never seen that document that I can recall".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin is struggling to reconcile the two accounts and asks Mr Bell: "As far as you're concerned that is completely made up?"

    "Yes", responds the former DETI minister.

  16. 'Can't understand why no-one came to me'

    Mr Bell says he can't understand why nobody gave him a document to say the RHI scheme was an "issue", had a "budget implication" and put forward "the recommendation and, minister, you need to do this now".

    Wood pellets

    The inquiry barrister says the 8 July submission was just such a document.

    Mr Bell says he can't understand why his department and the permanent secretary did not come to him on the in the days after that and asked him: "Have you dealt with this yet?"

  17. 'I only approved RHI delay to get scheme under control'

    At a meeting in late-August 2015, Mr Bell approved the addition of cost controls to the RHI scheme.

    He claims he was told that the plan would be only cleared if he agreed to a four-week delay for the changes, meaning they would come into effect in November that year.

    Jonathan Bell

    He says that was "the only way I could get action on a scheme that was urgent and needed to be addressed" and he didn't want such a delay.

    Inquiry barrister David Scoffield QC and the inquiry panellists ask why Mr Bell gave his approval even though he had not seen the details about the plan in the original submission about the changes.

    "This was only done to get the situation under control," replies the witness.

  18. 'No evidence I got RHI submission or signed it'

    Mr Bell says there he did not receive a key document about the planned introduction of cost controls to the RHI scheme.

    As mentioned before lunch, officials drew up a submission for the minister on 8 July about the planned changes to the initiative.

    In the paper, Mr Bell was asked to agree to go ahead with legislation to make changes to the subsidies on offer through the scheme and suggested that the changes could be implemented in October.

    Burning wood pellets

    Asked if he remembers when he first saw the document, Mr Bell says he knows he didn't get it on the date it was produced.

    "I don't see any reference in any of the evidence where I got the 8th of July submission or signed it," he says.

    He didn't get it before he went on holiday and nor did he receive it when he returned, he adds.

  19. Sky News denies correspondent advised DUP on Bell

    TVs showing Sky News

    After Jonathan Bell's claim at the RHI Inquiry today that a journalist - understood to be David Blevins of Sky News - advised the DUP on how to "discredit" him, Sky News responds.

    "The suggestion by Jonathan Bell that David Blevins advised the DUP on anything is completely and utterly untrue," says a spokesperson for the broadcaster.