Strains at the very top of the DUP have emerged at the RHI Inquiry, with the revelation that Arlene Foster’s long-standing adviser believed that he was sacrificed to protect others in the party.
Andrew Crawford, who for most of Mrs Foster’s ministerial career was by her side, said that at the height of the scandal in January 2017 he believed the DUP agreed to him being named by a senior civil servant as the individual believed to have delayed RHI cost controls, something he denies.
The former Spad said that material given to him by the inquiry indicated that senior figures around Mrs Foster had done little to “contradict or dispel” the rumours that he was responsible.
He drew particular attention to how when allegations were aimed at the party’s powerful unelected chief executive Timothy Johnston, senior DUP figures were “quick to defend him... in a way that they did not defend me”, although he stressed that he did not know “what involvement, if any” Mr Johnston had in the situation.
When asked why he believed the DUP was keen to deflect or discredit any possible reference to Mr Johnston, Dr Crawford said: “I do not know. It may have been the case that I was viewed as expendable whereas Timothy Johnston was not.”
In a text message to a friend, Mark Anderson, at the point where senior civil servant Andrew McCormick named him as the person who he had been tolddelayed cost controls, Dr Crawford said: “I’ve been destroyed”.
Dr Crawford said that he had given Mr Johnston, then Mrs Foster’s key Spad, crucial emails – including one where as cost controls on the over-budget scheme were delayed he suggested to another Spad that it could be a good thing to over-spend because he thought that the Treasury was picking up the bill.
That happened, he said, in early December, prior to BBC Spotlight’s exposé on December 6 and Mr Johnston told the inquiry that he had given the emails to Mrs Foster.
Yet later that month Mrs Foster told Stephen Nolan that she had “no idea” why cost controls had been delayed.
He said that he had asked to meet Mrs Foster and several hours after he was named by Dr McCormick he had met her in her home in Fermanagh, where Mr Johnston was also present.
He said that at that meeting “I offered my resignation from the role of special adviser...and it was accepted.”
He then added: “During that discussion with Arlene,...she indicated that it was possible or likely that John Robinson was also going to resign from his role as adviser.”
He said it was due to “the spotlight being put on John Robinson at that time” and he was being blamed for not indicating that his father-in-law had an RHI boiler installed.
However, Mr Robinson – who is Mr Johnston’s brother-in-law – retained his post and is now directly employed by the party as its chief spin doctor.
Dr McCormick has told the inquiry that in mid-December 2016 Mr Johnston came to him and “asked me to check out further details of Andrew Crawford’s relatives’ RHI installations”.
When he did so, he found that two of Dr Crawford’s relatives had got into the scheme in the final days before cost controls.
Sir Patrick highlighted that Mr Johnston had provided the inquiry with a statement which “praises the reputation and integrity and honour of this man” while the evidence of Dr McCormick was that “Mr Johnston drew his attention to this man’s relatives and suggested he should look at them”.
Dr Crawford said he was unaware that Mr Johnston was doing that and he did not know why he had done so.
He said that in his decade-long experience of working for the DUP he was used to the party conducting internal inquiries into problems.
In this instance, he said that Mr Johnston asked him for any information which he had about the introduction of cost controls, something which he said he provided to Mr Johnston.
“After that I had very little contact with any of the folks who were dealing with the...at no stage did any of them come to ask me what was [sic] my dealings with the scheme, why did I put certain things in emails; at no stage did they do any type of investigation.
“I was aware that work was going on behind the scenes. In [Mrs Foster’s] statement that she made that December she said that an investigation took place. I had no part in any of that investigation and I had very little involvement during any of that December/January period.”
Sir Patrick said: “Essentially, Mr Crawford, after hearing the evidence of Mr [ex-DUP Spad Tim] Cairns yesterday and your previous evidence, it looks to me as if your evidence will be that you were hung out to dry by this political party; Mr Cairns says that he was hung out to dry by the political party. Is that right?”
Dr Crawford said: “I’m still involved with the DUP, so it’s not a matter that I blame everyone in the DUP for what happened. I was not happy with how events were handled in December 2016 and January 2017...in my mind I was blamed unfairly and in my mind a course of action was taken to put my name out there.
“And look, you talked yesterday about grubby politics; that’s how politics works, you know, in terms of if there is a crisis, is there somebody going to fall for it, how do we deal with it, how do we manage it, but I’ve always been sore about the way it was dealt with in December 2016 and January 2017 because I believe there was work going on behind the scenes to basically pin the blame on me if possible.”