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Simon Hamilton 'not proud' after conspiring with spad to leak emails and take heat off DUP

Simon Hamilton said the decision to leak emails was made in an 'incredibly febrile atmosphere'

FORMER DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton has conceded that anonymously leaking civil servants' emails to the press and his own department's permanent secretary was "not my proudest moment".

The Strangford MLA conspired with his special adviser John Robinson to make the correspondence public in order to take the heat off the DUP at the height of outcry over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The former minister thought the emails from Stormont officials to poultry industry representatives and boiler installers were "pretty explosive" and that they would help shift the media's focus away from Arlene Foster's former spad Andrew Crawford.

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The emails had been forwarded to Mr Crawford, a former employee of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), days earlier by the lobby group's chief executive Wesley Aston.

The DUP spad had been the focus of intense media scrutiny after The Irish News revealed his relatives' interest in the poultry industry and subsequent claims that the party's aides had sought to delay the imposition of RHI cost controls.

Dating from the summer of 2015, the correspondence showed there had contact between civil servants and the UFU relating to plans to cut the scheme's lucrative subsidies.

The emails date from the period when there was a huge spike in RHI applications, sending the cost of the scheme way over budget.

Mr Hamilton told the inquiry panel that he and Mr Robinson were behind the leaking of the emails to the media and Department for Economy permanent secretary Andrew McCormick.

"I don't think it was my idea," the former DUP minister told the inquiry, before adding: "I accept this looks highly unorthodox – it is highly unorthodox."

Mr Hamilton said the decision to leak the correspondence was made in the context of an "incredibly febrile atmosphere" and that his party was "being hit from all sides" with allegations, including claims of corruption.

He said the emails countered the public narrative that DUP advisers, in particular Andrew Crawford, were principally to blame for a spike in applications.

"I wouldn't imagine it would be one of your proudest moments?" inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin asked Mr Hamilton.

"You're right," the former minister responded. "It is not my proudest moment."

"It is one of many things that I regret around this period."

Earlier, the former minister expressed regret on not exerting more pressure on officials to find ways to limit the damage wreaked by the RHI.

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