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Jonathan Bell refutes his former spad's 'bullying' claims

FORMER DUP minister Jonathan Bell says an alleged incident where he reportedly "swung a punch" at his special adviser "never happened".

It emerged earlier this week that Mr Bell's special adviser, Timothy Cairns, raised allegations of bullying against him, including a claim that he had tried to break his finger and had swung a punch at him.

According to inquiry documents, the allegation came in a text message between Mr Cairns and another special adviser, Richard Bullick, on December 15, 2016.

Mr Bell has refuted this.

He is set to appear at the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme inquiry today.

Mr Bell had been minister at the former Enterprise, Trade and Investment department (Deti) in 2015-16 during the RHI crisis.

The independent inquiry was set up to examine why costs for the scheme spiralled.

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In his witness statement, which was published on the inquiry's website yesterday afternoon, Mr Bell rejects the text message allegation.

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Bell said: "No such incident took place."

He added that he first became aware of the allegations through material disclosed to him by the inquiry.

Mr Bell said his working relationship with Mr Cairns had been "generally good".

However, he added that he felt Mr Cairns was "intimidated" by other DUP special advisers.

Mr Bell also makes claims that Mr Cairns had sought to "indirectly control" him.

The former minister claimed that on a date in June/July 2015, shortly after he took up the executive post, Deti's permanent secretary had tried to raise the issue of the RHI, but that Mr Cairns "stated he did not wish the RHI scheme to be on the agenda".

His written statement also includes further details about a heated exchange with Mr Cairns over breakfast at a London hotel in 2015, when Mr Bell summarily "sacked" his special adviser.

The altercation followed an argument between the pair the previous night in an Indian restaurant.

At breakfast, Mr Bell said he wanted to speak to Mr Cairns privately to tell him it was not a spad's role to overrule and contradict a minister. However, Mr Cairns initially refused to speak to the minister.

"Timothy then came to the breakfast table, he appeared agitated and when I attempted to address the issue he stated to me with his finger raised 'now your [sic] going to listen to me big b***s'," Mr Bell's statement says.

"I was shocked and taken aback at this outburst."

Mr Bell says the episode was "embarrassingly played out in front of the permanent secretary (Andrew McCormick) and civil servants".

The former Strangford MLA, who was suspended from the DUP in December 2016, says "Timothy Cairns saw himself as more accountable to the DUP spads than to the minister".

 

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