Northern Ireland news

Andrew Crawford: DUP special adviser's brother 'told he could make £250,000 from RHI'

EVIDENCE: The RHI Inquiry heard yesterday that three of former DUP special adviser Dr Andrew Crawford’s close family had 11 biomass boilers between them

A BROTHER of former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford was told in 2014 he could make around £250,000 from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, it has emerged.

The inquiry into the botched scheme yesterday heard new information about a quotation Co Tyrone-based James Crawford received for biomass boilers in June of that year.

The quotation, in a document provided by Mr Crawford, starkly outlined how lucrative the scheme could be.

However, during his evidence yesterday Andrew Crawford insisted he had never discussed the RHI scheme with his brother, despite being the special adviser in the enterprise department which originated the scheme.

Dr Crawford resigned as a DUP special adviser in January 2017. The RHI scheme, which was designed to encourage people to use more eco-friendly technology, effectively paid users for burning fuel. It eventually closed to new applicants in late February 2016.

The inquiry heard striking evidence yesterday including how:

  • Three of Dr Crawford's close relatives have 11 biomass boilers between them
  • James Crawford's chicken sheds were used by producer Moy Park as a 'model' for similar projects
  • Dr Crawford emailed his cousin Richard a confidential government document outlining planned RHI cost controls on the evening of July 16 2015
  • He was told by a biomass installer in July 2015 that some RHI recipients were using the scheme to heat empty sheds
  • He warned fellow DUP special adviser Timothy Cairns in July 2015 of a potential "massive spike in applications" but could not recall if he told this to then finance minister Arlene Foster, whom he was working for at the time

The inquiry heard James Crawford installed two biomass boilers on land adjoining Dr Crawford's small-holding outside Omagh, Co Tyrone, in around July 2015.

Two of Dr Crawford's cousins also have biomass boilers.

His cousin Richard Crawford has five boilers while another cousin John Crawford has three. All three relatives live no further than a 10-mile radius from Dr Crawford's family farm and use the boilers to heat chicken houses used to supply meat to Moy Park.

The inquiry heard a document emailed to James Crawford from a proposed installer in June 2014 said the scheme will "have paid for itself" by the end of its third year of operation.

An example calculation suggested that over 20 years James Crawford could get an income from RHI of around £250,000 and make savings of more than £300,000.

Inquiry counsel Joseph Aiken said to Andrew Crawford: "The starkness of it I presume you would accept".

"On June 6 2014, this is, according to your brother, a communication that is sent to him making various claims about how lucrative the RHI scheme is," Mr Aiken said.

Asked if he ever spoke to his brother about his poultry business, Dr Crawford said: "I do not recall any discussions about this".

"I have no recollection of seeing this document ever before," he added.

Andrew Crawford told the inquiry that in July 2015, he learned from a biomass installer working on James Crawford's poultry unit that some some RHI recipients may have been using their boilers to heat empty sheds.

Dr Crawford said the installer, David Robinson of R&S Biomass, "told me there was a shortage of pipe work" due to the number of boilers being installed.

Several days later, he emailed fellow DUP special adviser Timothy Cairns, who was working with enterprise minister Jonathan Bell, to warn him "the word on the street" was that cuts to RHI scheme subsidies would be introduced in October and "you are going to get a massive spike of applications before this date".

"I was telling them there's a tsunami coming - you have to move," Dr Crawford said.

However, he said he was unclear whether he told then finance minister Arlene Foster of his fears of a spike.

Mrs Foster has said Dr Crawford did not inform her of this. Dr Crawford said yesterday: "I certainly didn't keep it from her but I can't sit here today and say... I gave her the information," he said.

He admitted he should have drawn up a briefing note for Mrs Foster at the time.

"I should have done it," he said.

Dr Crawford has already admitted he sent a government submission on planned RHI cost controls to his cousin Richard Crawford in July 2015.

Dr Crawford has previously told the inquiry that it was "inappropriate" to have sent the document. But he denied yesterday he sent it to tip-off his cousin that RHI tariffs were likely to be reduced.

"The whole industry were aware (of potential tariff reductions) before this," he said.

"This wasn't how he knew changes were taking place".

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Dr Crawford also denied speaking to Moy Park official David Mark about problems in the RHI scheme.

Around July 2015, Dr Crawford suggested Mr Cairns speak to Mr Mark and a biomass installer Mr Robinson.

Mr Cairns has told the inquiry that it would have been "inappropriate" to meet either man.

But Dr Crawford said yesterday he "didn't see any difficulty in talking to wider industry...I believe that the role of an adviser was to talk to a wider circle of people".

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