Close relatives of Arlene Foster’s adviser who lived within close proximity to him installed a total of 11 RHI boilers, yet he has said that he never advised them to do so nor did he see the lucrative figures given to them by the installers for how much money they could make.
Dr Andrew Crawford, who returned to the RHI Inquiry yesterday for a fifth day of evidence, faced repeated questioning from inquiry counsel Joseph Aiken and from the inquiry panel over that claim.
The inquiry was told that the former DUP special adviser’s brother, James Crawford, received a quotation on June 6, 2014, from CHP Mechanical for the installation of biomass boilers on his poultry farm.
The quotation made clear that his RHI income would be dependent on the level of heat produced by his boiler and then set out that the capital cost of the boilers would be paid off by the end of year three – with RHI payments to continue for a further 17 years.
An example calculation showed that a boiler owner could expect to get an annual RHI payment of £12,930 per year, with additional fuel savings of £16,437 – meaning RHI income of about a quarter of a million pounds over the 20-year scheme.
Mr Aiken put it to Dr Crawford that anyone receiving such a document may be unsure as to whether the claims in it could be accurate and asked him: “How likely is it that [he] – [to] his brother and the special adviser to the minister who brought the scheme that he’s thinking of participating in – didn’t put this document in front of your nose to say ‘Andrew, surely that can’t be right?’”
Dr Crawford said: “Well, I’m very clear that he didn’t put it in front of my nose.
“I had no discussion with him about this document, I’d no recollection of ever seeing this document ever before; I’ve already said that when I was special adviser I was based in Belfast, I lived in Belfast. Yes, I went home at the weekends and I would have been in regular contact with my family – I’m not distancing myself from that – but I do not have any recollection of seeing this document or having any discussion around it.”
Pressed by inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin, Dr Crawford said: “I didn’t see the document”, before immediately correcting himself to say: “I’ve no recollection of seeing the document”.
Three months later, Dr Crawford received a ministerial submission about the expansion of the RHI scheme to domestic properties. On the cover of the submission, Dr Crawford wrote the words “what about the non-domestic scheme?”
At that time he also planted a question to his own minister by getting DUP MLA William Irwin to table a written Assembly question asking if there were any plans to make the RHI less lucrative.
Andrew McCormick, who at that point was the most senior civil servant in Mrs Foster and Dr Crawford’s Stormont department, told the inquiry that when looking back on events it now appeared to him that “well before the problems with the scheme began to emerge (in March 2015), Andrew Crawford appeared to be interested specifically in the tariff.
“While the origin of the flaw with the tariff still appears to have been a genuine mistake, it is possible that, like many in the private sector, he became aware of the issue relatively quickly.”
He said that Dr Crawford’s “early interest” in the level of subsidy was evident on a number of occasions, including his planted question to Mrs Foster.
Dr Crawford initially told the inquiry that he had asked the question because he wanted to “publicise the fact that there was [sic] not going to be any cost controls introduced to the non-domestic scheme at this stage”.
But Dr McCormick said: “I have not seen any evidence that suggests that officials were recommending or concerned about costs controls at that stage, so it is not obvious to me why Andrew Crawford felt a need for the point to be publicised”.
Dr Crawford also sent an email to huge poultry processor Moy Park in November 2014 saying that the “changes [likely to apply from summer 2015] are not likely to have a negative impact on Moy Park growers”, something Dr McCormick said was striking because he did not believe there was any hint of retrospective changes to the scheme which would have meant Moy Park required such reassurance.
When asked yesterday if there was any reason why people should be suspicious of what he was doing in that period and that he may have known by late 2014 that the scheme was far too generous, Dr Crawford said: “At this stage, I remain [sic] that I wasn’t clear about the tariff rate – the attractiveness, as you describe it, of the tariff. I can’t say more than that.”
Sir Patrick said: “Why would any reasonable bystander seeing that not be curious – not suspicious; that’s the word that’s been used – but curious as to why you were doing that?”
Dr Crawford said: “Well, obviously it was raised; I’m not sure who by in terms of...”
Sir Patrick said: “Don’t worry who raised it. Why would anybody not be curious about why you were doing these two things – you’re organising the question, and you are contacting Moy Park?”
Dr Crawford said that people were “piecing together pieces of information from over a period of time... there has been a large number of pieces of literature put in front of me in terms of submissions and all the rest of it; what’s happening here is that he’s pulling out two particular comments or an Assembly Question and pulling them together.”
Sir Patrick said: “That’s right. They are taking two particular elements. So I’ve asked you why anybody wouldn’t be particularly curious about it. Now I want to ask you why did you arrange the Assembly Question.”
Dr Crawford went on to say that he could not now say what prompted the question but that it may have been a newspaper article. He said that the Moy Park message came as the result of a request from the company.
Ultimately, Dr Crawford’s brother got a quote from another company – which he accepted, installing two boilers – which showed that between fuel payments and RHI payments he would be getting about £32,000 per year for 30 years.
Dr Crawford again said that he was never shown that document.
Dr Crawford’s cousin Richard Crawford has six boilers and another cousin John Crawford has three boilers.