Relatives of Arlene Foster adviser had 11 boilers in RHI scheme

Ex-aide says DUP wants to blame him for the programme as he comes before inquiry

Close relatives of Arlene Foster's former special adviser had 11 boilers in a botched green energy scheme in Northern Ireland, an inquiry chairman has said.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was introduced in 2012 to encourage businesses to switch to more sustainable fuel sources, but ended up running significantly over-budget as there was no cap on its subsidies.

On Thursday, the ex-adviser, Dr Andrew Crawford, told an inquiry into the RHI programme that, under the scheme, his brother James and two cousins who lived within 16km of him installed wood fuel burners to heat chicken houses used to supply meat to producer Moy Park.

Dr Crawford denied any involvement himself.

Dr Crawford also denies any efforts to delay the imposition of cost controls on the massively overspending scheme in 2015 when civil servants wanted to take action, and said the DUP wanted to “pin the blame” on him.

His evidence conflicts with that given by another former DUP special adviser.

Inquiry chairman and retired judge Patrick Coghlin told Dr Crawford: "You have three family members, one brother and two cousins, within a 10-mile radius who have installed 11 boilers."

The former senior DUP figure said he had purchased a “smallholding” which was completed in 2014. This meant he owned fields adjoining a poultry unit established by his brother which was in the RHI scheme.

Dr Crawford said: “There was no financial link between myself and my brother in any way.”

James Crawford was given a quotation from a boiler installer outlining the potential for his initial financial outlay to be paid off within three years using lucrative official subsidies, leaving 17 years of profit, a lawyer told the inquiry.

The judge asked: “They never said, ‘Is it worthwhile me putting in these boilers in the scheme?’

“Would any of these close relations of yours with farms within a close geographical area never have said to you, ‘I know you are working on this, it seems to be awfully profitable?’”

Dr Crawford said he had never discussed the finances.

He still associates with members of the DUP despite having left his job following revelations about his role in the RHI scheme.

He said: “In my mind I was blamed unfairly.”

He added: “I believe there was work going on behind the scenes to possibly pin the blame on me if possible.” – PA