Andrew McCormick has backed up the evidence of multiple witnesses that Jonathan Bell was a minister who had a limited grasp of detail and often did not read key papers.
Mr Bell’s former Spad Timothy Cairns has claimed that it was known in the department that Mr Bell required verbal briefings on complex issues because he simply did not read many of his ministerial submissions, something which Mr Bell denied.
Dr McCormick said that Mr Cairns’s evidence “strikes me as sound” and “makes sense” in light of his observations of Mr Bell.
Counsel to the inquiry David Scoffield QC asked Dr McCormick about “what might be described as a limited relationship that Mr Bell had with the paperwork that was placed before him”.
Dr McCormick accepted he “maybe” should have been “sensitive to that point”.
He said that Mr Cairns had shown commendable dedication in attempting to get the minister to understand issues when he could have “just got him to tick it”, but that the civil service “were not sensitive enough to his way of working and we should have asked more questions [and] should have been more direct and imaginative”.
Dr McCormick recalled one occasion during the period of in-out DUP ministers when Mr Bell approved 10 ministerial submissions in 10 minutes.
He said: “I’m not sure how much they were read, to be honest ... he was at the other end of a phone. I have my suspicions on that.”