DUP Spad Stephen Brimstone defends not telling the whole story about RHI

Stephen Brimstone yesterday drew sharp responses from RHI Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin after the Spad defended not telling the BBC the full truth of what he knew about RHI.

In late 2016, the Nolan Show had asked him: “Did you or any member of your family benefit from the RHI scheme?”

Stephen Brimstone in front of the RHI Inquiry yesterday

Stephen Brimstone in front of the RHI Inquiry yesterday

His answer said that he had personally benefited from the scheme – but left out that his brother and his parents-in-law were also claimants.

Mr Brimstone defended not answering that question fully, saying: “I didn’t feel I had to get into that [or] I was under any obligation to get into that.”

The BBC also asked about a meeting between Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell which Mr Brimstone says he recalls as “angry”, but he thought it had not been about RHI.

The BBC asked him: “Did you witness a heated exchange between Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell in which Arlene Foster ordered Jonathan Bell in a highly agitated manner to keep the RHI scheme open in January 2015 [actually 2016]?

Mr Brimstone responded to that: “No. I did not witness any such exchange between Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell.”

Counsel to the inquiry Joseph Aiken asked him: “Now, is that answer accurate to the extent that you’re saying the heated exchange was not about RHI, but you’re not acknowledging ‘well, there was a heated exchange – it just wasn’t about RHI’. Do you understand the impression that might convey is simply ‘there’s no heated exchange’?”

Mr Brimstone said: “To be honest, I was asked a question and I answered the question...the context of that question was ‘in which Arlene Foster in a highly agitated manner ordered Jonathan Bell to keep the RHI scheme open’.”

Sir Patrick Coghlin asked: “Were you in any way prevented from saying ‘I was present during a heated exchange, but the subject matter of that exchange was not RHI; it was Bombardier and Canada?’”

Mr Brimstone said: “No, I wasn’t prevented from saying that.”

Sir Patrick said sternly: “That, according to you, is an accurate... account. Now were you in some way being inhibited because you were being talked to by the BBC? If you weren’t, why not give the full account?”

Mr Brimstone said: “I didn’t think that they needed to know about any other matters that were being discussed at that meeting. The question was specific to the RHI scheme.”

Sir Patrick said the answer “could be seen as highly misleading, if what you say now is true”. He added: “You know the importance of being accurate. Why not answer that question accurately?”

Mr Brimstone said: “Forgive me, chair, but I do believe I answered it accurately.”

Sir Patrick said: “For myself, I find great difficulty in understanding why if you’re asked a question that is a very important question you don’t answer it properly. You say you did answer it properly.”

Mr Brimstone said he did not want to volunteer the full story in case it led to follow-up questions.