Arlene Foster’s longstanding special adviser has admitted “inappropriate behaviour” after the revelation that he forwarded confidential ministerial submissions about looming RHI cost controls to relatives with an interest in the scheme.
Andrew Crawford worked as Mrs Foster’s handpicked Spad from 2007 until 2016 before working in the same role for other DUP ministers, resigned from his role last January after senior civil servant Andrew McCormick said he was aware of rumours that Dr Crawford acted to delay cost controls in summer 2015.
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.”
However, although Dr Crawford continues to robustly dispute the allegation that he was involved in an orchestrated attempt by senior DUP figures to delay cost controls in 2015, he has admitted that other actions by him were wrong.
It had already emerged – thanks to the RHI inquiry’s sweeping powers to compel documentation – that Dr Crawford had forwarded confidential ministerial submissions to some of his relatives. Both of the submissions related to the potential for cost controls
Dr Crawford will appear before the inquiry today, ahead of Mrs Foster’s first appearance either tomorrow or on Friday. Last night the inquiry has published his written evidence in advance of his appearance.
In it, he accepts that he forwarded a ministerial submission of 16 July 2015 – four months before cost controls were finally implemented – to his cousin, Richard Crawford.
The submission – attached to an email whose subject included the words “urgent cost controls” – made clear that the scheme was in serious financially difficulty, saying that there was a need to “urgently implement cost control measures to manage future RHI expenditure”.
It gave a date, 1 October 2015, for when the changes could be made – although delays meant that the changes were not made until 18 November.
Evidence obtained by the inquiry from Richard Crawford shows that it was not the first time that Mrs Foster’s closest adviser had forwarded confidential government material relating to the scheme to a family member.
On 6 July 2013 – 16 days before the document attached to the email became public – Andrew Crawford sent his poultry farmer cousin another ministerial submission relating to a consultation which recommended cost controls but the controls, for reasons which have yet to be fully explained, were not implemented after the consultation ended.
However, both men insisted that none of the information had been used to install boilers to beat the looming deadline.
Richard Crawford, who already had three RHI boilers, did apply to the scheme for further boilers in September 2015 – two months after receiving the ministerial submission. However, he said that the company installing the boilers had been responsible for submitting the paperwork and that he had installed the boilers “in or around July 2015”. He said that the email sent to him by the Spad had been “unsolicited”.
Andrew Crawford said that he had sent similar information to Joan and Wallace Gregg, his sister and brother-in-law, who were considering joining the scheme but ultimately chose not to do so.
Mr Crawford said: “I acknowledge that I should not have sent the submission to Wallace Gregg. I accept that this was inappropriate behaviour in my role as special adviser and I sincerely regret having done so.”