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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. Dr Andrew Crawford, Arlene Foster's former DUP adviser, gives evidence
  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 this week...

    Today's session took a while to warm up but we reckon it was worth the wait.

    Having endured a lengthy and forensic questioning over several days, Dr Crawford will likely be pleased that his time in the witness chair in Stormont's Senate chamber is over.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    You'll have to wait until next Thursday for the next witness session - join us then.

    In the meantime, have a great weekend - we're going blackberrying...

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    The RHI Inquiry panel

    A former DUP adviser admitted removing a reference from an important government paper to the poultry industry being the root cause of the spike in applications to the RHI scheme.

    Dr Andrew Crawford told the inquiry he should not have taken out the term from a paper about the closure of the scheme in early 2016.

  3. 'I never received diktat from top DUP advisers'

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin has one final question for Dr Crawford - was there a hierarchy of DUP advisers?

    Timothy Johnston

    The witness says there wasn't a hierarchy but advisers to the first minister would've been consulted on complicated issues.

    He says he has "no experience" of "receiving a diktat" from senior party advisers Timothy Johnston (above) or Richard Bullick, who served the first minister.

  4. 'Top official never asked for facts before publicly naming me over RHI'

    DETI's most senior civil servant says in his evidence that DUP adviser Tim Cairns "confirmed clearly and explicitly" in December 2016 that Dr Crawford had been the "prime mover" and the "source of the influence to delay" cost controls in the RHI scheme.

    During a Northern Ireland Assembly committee hearing in January 2017, Dr Andrew McCormick (below) publicly named Dr Crawford as the person who sought the delay.

    Video content

    Video caption: Dr Andrew McCormick named Dr Andrew Crawford while giving evidence to Stormont's PAC

    Dr McCormick also says in his inquiry evidence that Mr Cairns told him that another DUP adviser Timothy Johnston was also involved after the committee hearing.

    He adds: "It's obvious that the DUP was well aware that the revelation at the [committee] would attract significant publicity."

    Asked for his views on that, Dr Crawford says that Dr McCormick never tried to "get his facts or speak to me directly on it".

  5. 'I didn't tip Moy Park off about RHI closure'

    Dr Crawford denies that he tipped Moy Park off about the impending closure of the RHI scheme three weeks before it was publicly announced that it was due to shut.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    He says he doesn't believe he knew about that the scheme was being shut down when he and Mr Storey met Moy Park representatives on 15 January.

    "I'm aware that there were budgetary problems and it was likely to close but obviously there was a process going on in DETI that I was not aware of," he adds.

  6. 'Crawford told us RHI was being shut down'

    Dr Crawford gave Moy Park notice that the RHI scheme was due to be shut down, the poultry production giant says in its evidence to the inquiry.

    It says he and the then finance minister Mervyn Storey met its representatives at its headquarters on 15 January 2016

    A Moy Park sign

    The meeting took place several weeks before the scheme closed and Moy Park says: "Towards the end of the meeting Andrew Crawford advised that the tiered Northern Ireland RHI scheme would soon be closing."

    Dr Crawford says he doesn't have a clear recollection of the meeting but he remembers that the RHI was discussed, although he claims he had limited knowledge of what was happening with it.

  7. 'I expected Moy Park to bring growers into line'

    Mr Aiken returns to an email that Dr Crawford received from the hotelier Howard Hastings in August 2015 that referenced the possibility that participants were abusing the scheme.

    He puts it to Dr Crawford that he forwarded the email to Moy Park executive David Mark (below).

    David Mark

    He says he doesn't recollect but concedes that the evidence points to him having sent it: "I can only conclude that it came from myself."

    Asked what he expected Moy Park to do with the information, Dr Crawford says he expected Mr Mark to be aware of what the industry was saying and "if his growers were responsible for any abuse to bring it into line".

  8. 'Were you withholding information from Foster and McGuinness?'

    The document about the closure of the RHI scheme from which Dr Crawford removed the poultry industry reference would ultimately be sent to the Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers.

    Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien says it "strikes me" that by removing the reference Dr Crawford was "withholding information" from Stormont's top two ministers that they were "reasonably entitled to see".

    Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster

    Dr Crawford denies that withholding information was his intention and it "certainly wasn't to undermine the strengths or merits of the paper".

    Sir Patrick returns to Dr Crawford's reasoning for the removal and says he's "trying to give you the fullest opportunity to explain something that I think you are unable to explain otherwise".

    Dr Crawford insists that there was "no malice intended" in what he did.

  9. 'Why remove truth about poultry industry effect on RHI?'

    Dr Crawford says the fact that family members are poultry farmers was not the reason why he removed the reference to the poultry industry from a document about the RHI scheme's closure.

    The inquiry heard yesterday that his brother and two of his cousins have 11 boilers registered on the RHI scheme between them.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    He claims that he was "concerned" that singling out the poultry industry was "unfair".

    But Sir Patrick counters again, saying it was a "true fact" that Moy Park had the "major responsibility" for the spike in application, and he asks: "Why remove something that was true?"

    Dr Craword says with Moy Park being one of Northern Ireland biggest private employer he was worried about "implications" that the reference "could have on the wider economy".

  10. 'I removed poultry industry reference from RHI document'

    In January 2016, DETI officials drew up a document about the closure of the RHI scheme, which referenced that the poultry industry's "wholesale uptake" of the initiative as one reason why the budget had rocketed.

    But the reference to the poultry industry was later removed by Dr Andrew Crawford - he claims it was "singling out" poultry farmers and he believed that other sectors had may have contributed to the scheme's budget problems.

    Chicks

    He suggests that claimants who were using biomass boilers for drying grain or woodchip also played a part.

    Sir Patrick challenges that view, saying that all of the evidence the inquiry has seen points to the poultry industry - "specifically Moy Park" - being the major factor in the spike in applications to the scheme.

  11. Inquiry resumes after lunch break

    The RHI Inquiry

    Sir Patrick Coghlin begins the afternoon session by pointing out that his reference this morning to "leaving out irrelevant material" should "not be seen in any way as a criticism".

    Inquiry counsel Joseph Aiken says he's grateful to the chair for pointing that out.

  12. Time for lunch...

    The day's opening session ends but there's more to come - join us again from 14:00.

  13. 'I told top officials about family ties to RHI'

    Dr Crawford says he told Mr Sterling and another senior Stormont finance official that he had family members were claimants on the RHI scheme when it "became a live issue" in autumn 2015.

    "I wanted to put it on the record at that time because I was aware that... there could be a perceived conflict of interest," he explains.

    Three men in a meeting

    He "certainly would've told them that my brother was in the scheme" but he says he can't remember if he mentioned that two of his cousins were also claimants: "They were one step removed."

    He tells the inquiry that his declaration was a voluntary one.

  14. 'Quite taken aback I was being blamed over RHI'

    Dr Crawford says he was "quite taken aback" when he was told the DETI's stop civil servant Dr McCormick was "blaming me for delays" to the RHI scheme's cost controls.

    The former DETI minister Jonathan Bell claims in his evidence that he'd been told that there was a "major row" between Dr Crawford and David Sterling (below), who was then the finance department's permanent secretary.

    He says that his adviser Mr Cairns said Mr Sterling had "shouted" at Dr Crawford and told him: "You kept this scheme open for the benefit of your family and you've caused significant budgetary crisis in Northern Ireland."

    David Sterling

    Mr Bell also claims that Mr Sterling was worried that he "could potentially lose his chance to be the head of the civil service as a result" of the RHI debacle.

    Asked about that incident, Dr Crawford says it never happened: "At no stage did we have loud altercations or rows."

    But he recounts that Mr Sterling "alerted" him to the "fact that Dr McCormick was blaming me" and he tells that inquiry that was the first time he'd heard it suggested that he'd been responsible for the delay to cost controls.

  15. 'Inspections showed no evidence of RHI abuse'

    DETI civil servant Stuart Wightman was asked to check out reports of abuse of the system and he contacted to the RHI scheme's administrator Ofgem, which was responsible for inspecting biomass boilers registered on the initiative.

    A biomss boiler

    Ofgem officials told him they had encountered only a small number of minor matters, such as fuel records not being up to date.

    There was no evidence of the heating of empty sheds, or other forms of abuse of the scheme.

  16. 'DUP advisers should've told us of alleged abuse'

    Dr Crawford was "clearly was aware of the abuse of the scheme in the summer of 2015", according to Dr Andrew McCormick (below), who was DETI permanent secretary at the time.

    He says in his evidence to the inquiry that the emails received by the DUP advisers Dr Crawford and Mr Cairns showed clear indications that public money was not being used properly.

    Dr Andrew McCormick

    The senior civil servant says the two advisers "had a clear and straightforward obligation under their terms and conditions of employment to act to correct the problem".

    Dr Crawford says he doesn't agree with the point Dr McCormick makes.

  17. 'Luxury hotelier told to get boiler installations under way'

    A biomass boiler installer warned an energy adviser to the Northern Ireland hotelier Howard Hastings about the impending addition of cost controls to the RHI scheme and advised that "it may be better to get [installations] under way" before they came into effect.

    The installer was Brian Hood, who gave evidence to the inquiry in February, and in his email to Mr Hastings' adviser he also outlined that there were allegations that the scheme was being abused.

    The Europa Hotel

    The Hastings Hotels group owns the Europa Hotel (above) in Belfast, the Slieve Donard in Newcastle, County Down, and various others.

    Mr Hastings forwarded the correspondence to Dr Crawford, saying the it "surely" wasn't happening on the DUP adviser's watch.

    There's no evidence of Dr Crawford passing the email on to DETI and he says he believes that the points made in the email to Mr Hastings were raised was "dealt with in previous discussions I had" with the enterprise department adviser.

  18. 'Few concrete cases of RHI abuse'

    Concerns were raised with Dr Crawford about the abuse of the RHI scheme, he tells the inquiry.

    "Empty buildings being heated, buildings having seven biomass boilers and a fan out the other side of it to ensure airflow to keep the temperatures down," he says.

    Wood pellets

    But "nobody" could point out specific examples that could be investigated, he adds.

    "There was talk and general discussions about it but no real, firm, concrete cases, or very few of them."

  19. 'Surprised that RHI cost controls were delayed'

    Cost controls for the RHI scheme were due to come into effect at the start of October 2015 but they were delayed until November after a meeting between the enterprise minister, his adviser and senior DETI officials in late August.

    Accounts differ about who's idea the delay was - the adviser Mr Cairns says it was DETI's energy boss, who challenges that view and alleges the opposite.

    A biomass boiler

    The delay had a big impact on the public purse, allowing more scheme applications to flood in.

    It's alleged that Dr Crawford had pushed for the cost controls to be delayed until the latest possible date that officials would allow - he denies that claim.

    He tells the inquiry he was "surprised" when he heard about the postponement to the subsidy cuts.