Timothy Johnston yesterday did a U-turn on his initial written evidence to the RHI Inquiry that there had been no understood hierarchy of DUP Spads.
Mr Johnston had said in his first witness statement over a year ago: “I had no sense that there was an understood or recognised hierarchy of advisers”.
That evidence was challenged by many witnesses to the inquiry.
When asked yesterday if he acknowledged that a hierarchy of the type described by various witnesses existed, Mr Johnston said: “Yes. If I can put a bit of context to it, I think there’s a distinction between the legal here and the political.
“I think in the legal sense from 2007 right through the period we were all appointed we were all seen as Spads to a particular minister - there wasn’t any particular ranking in terms of a formal structure where, you know, Mr Johnston and Mr [Richard] Bullick were seen as the captains and another seen as inferior. But I absolutely acknowledge that on the political side of things, I suppose, I am at broad common cause with all that has been said [by other witnesses] - maybe slightly different emphasis on some of it.”
Counsel for the inquiry Donal Lunny did not press Mr Johnston on the reason for the change in his evidence.
Mr Johnston said that because he and Mr Bullick had been there since 2007 “by virtue of having been a special adviser to the first minister...I absolutely do recognise the fact that I have probably been perceived – I think it has been a little overstated, if you don’t mind me saying, in some of the media commentary about the importance of my individual role in the sense that I served three first ministers at their pleasure”.
Mr Johnston said that at various points he had expected to leave to do “other things” and that he “did not insert myself as a long-standing adviser” but was there because others had confidence in him.