Another cousin of Arlene Foster’s long-standing ministerial adviser applied for three RHI boilers in the final two days before cost controls were implemented, it has emerged.
Andrew Crawford – who has already been revealed to have passed to several relatives a confidential ministerial submission which warned of looming cost controls – is accused of having worked in the shadows to delay cost controls at a point where it was clear that the scheme was out of control.
In April it was revealed that his cousin, Richard Crawford, has six RHI boilers, having been sent the ministerial submission, although he says it played no part in his decision.
Dr Crawford sent the same submission to another relative, Wallace Gregg, who chose not to install any boilers.
When that was revealed publicly, Dr Crawford admitted to “inappropriate behaviour” but he continues to work for the DUP.
Now, it has been revealed that a third relative, John Crawford of Augher, applied for three 99kwh boilers – the most lucrative under the ‘burn to earn’ level of subsidy – on 16 and 17 November, the final two days before the subsidy was slashed.
New evidence to the public inquiry into the cash for ash scandal makes clear that this information led to high level discussions within Stormont at the height of the scandal in December 2016.
In written evidence to the RHI Inquiry, Andrew McCormick, then the permanent secretary of Stormont’s Department for the Economy, said that in the days after the BBC Spotlight exposé in December 2016 senior DUP Spad Timothy Johnston, who is now the powerful DUP chief executive, had “asked me to check out further details of Andrew Crawford’s relatives’ RHI installations.
“I assume that he had either known beforehand that they were beneficiaries, or had noticed the names on the list that he saw on Friday 9 December 2016.
“The most obvious point of concern arising from that information was that John Crawford’s installations had been accredited on 16 and 17 November 2015, the last day before the tariff reduction.”
Dr McCormick said that he had discussed with DUP Spads and with the Executive press secretary, David Gordon, that “the timing of the accreditation of John Crawford’s boilers, (which I was assuming would become public knowledge quickly, given Simon Hamilton’s clear determination to get the names of the RHI recipients released) exposed the DUP to very severe risk of criticism, as by that time, one of the strongest allegations being made against them was that the scheme had been kept at the higher tariff to benefit people associated with the DUP.
“Hence, I drew this particular point to Malcolm McKibbin’s attention immediately.”
Dr McCormick said that he did not know whether the DUP Spads briefing Arlene Foster ahead of her interview with Stephen Nolan in December 2016 had explicitly told her about the claims that Dr Crawford had delayed cost controls and that some of his relatives had got into the scheme in those final weeks.
However, he noted that it was standard practice that a minister should be briefed candidly so they knew the full picture before a difficult interview. In that context, Dr McCormick reacted with apparent incredulity when Mrs Foster said she had “no idea” why cost controls were delayed in mid-2015 but Dr McCormick said that he could not say that she had misled the public because he did not know exactly what she was told.
He said: “Given the nature of discussions and development of events during that period, I was and remain very surprised by the statement made by Arlene Foster, to the effect that she had ‘...no idea’ in answer to the question posed by Stephen Nolan regarding the potential involvement by a DUP Spad in the delay.”
Dr McCormick said that he was not prejudging a “proper and fair scrutiny of the facts around John Crawford’s access to the RHI” but that he had highlighted to DUP Spad Richard Bullick at the time that “it’s not what it is; it’s what it looks like”.
He said he believed that DUP Spads had been aware that John Crawford “would, at the least, appear to have been a beneficiary of the delay” in implementing cost controls.
Dr Crawford was Mrs Foster’s handpicked Spad from 2007 until 2016 before working in the same role for other DUP ministers.
He resigned from his role last January after Dr McCormick said he was aware of rumours that he acted to delay cost controls.
At the time, Dr Crawford insisted that he was only quiting because he had “become the focus of the story” and that an inquiry would show that “I acted with complete integrity in all that I did”.
Mrs Foster said at the time: “I think Andrew will be absolutely cleared when the inquiry comes about.”