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RHI scandal: Who is telling the truth?

First Minister Arlene Foster and Strangford MLA Jonathan Bell have given contrasting versions of events in relation to a February meeting about the Renewable Heating Incentive
Gareth McKeown

THE confrontation at the heart RHI scandal is remembered in different ways by each of the DUP figures at the meeting.

One of the major allegations made by the former Economy Minister Jonathan Bell in his explosive interview with the BBC was that during a meeting in January this year a "highly agitated" and "angry" Arlene Foster forced him to keep the scheme open.

The First Minister has refuted this version of events, stating that Mr Bell was the aggressor and that she in fact felt "intimidated".

Further confusion is created by the presence, according to the Strangford MLA, of two Executive special advisers at the discussion - Richard Bullick and Stephen Brimstone.

The BBC said both special advisers, in a statement to the brodcaster, said they did not witness a heated exchange between the ministers.

Reflecting on the meeting during the interview, Mr Bell said he was "ordered" to appear in front of the First Minister after refusing her instruction to give a ministerial direction to extend the scheme.

He claimed Ms Foster was "highly agitated and angry" and described a "hostile" meeting and spoke of his "fear" - telling Stephen Nolan "it was abusive".

"She said you will keep it open and to be fair I was fairly strongly telling her back no I wasn’t cos I will never break the law and if I am not prepared to do it. I am certainly not prepared to instruct somebody else to do it," he said.

The First Minister's version of events is dramatically different and she said any notion she was abusive to Mr Bell was "nonsense"

She in turn has accused Mr Bell, a man she has known for over 25 years and had in the previous weeks signed her leadership nomination form, of being "very aggressive" during the meeting and claimed she felt "intimidated" by him.

"I was sitting in my room and he came in and used his physical bulk to stand over me in quite an aggressive way, so much so that he was, not physically, he was told to step back.I have no idea what the anger was about," she said.

She went on to allege that "many female colleagues" in Stormont have been "bullied" by Mr Bell and that she had a witness to corroborate her version of events at February's meeting.

"The Jonathan Bell that appears on your programme tonight is not a Jonathan Bell that would be familiar to many of his political colleagues, to many of his civil servants that he worked with in the department or indeed to many in the business community. I have many female colleagues who have felt intimidated and felt bullied by Jonathan over the years, I certainly felt that.

"I have felt intimidated by Jonathan Bell on occasion and I certainly did on that occasion so all of this nonsense that I was aggressive to him is quite the contrary," she added.

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