Inquiry into allegations, arising from a BBC NI Spotlight programme aired on 3 July 2013, of impropriety or irregularity relating to NIHE managed contracts and consideration of any resulting actions

Session: 2013/2014

Date: 03 July 2014

Reference: NIA 157/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60537-4

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/15 Seventh Report

spotlight-inquiry-report.pdf (45.92 mb)

Download the full report here.

There is also an addendum to the report which can be downloaded here.

Introduction

1. Strand One, paragraph 9 of the Belfast Agreement states the following:

2. The Committee will have a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department with which each is associated and will have a role in the initiation of legislation. They will have the power to:

  • Consider and advise on Department budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate enquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Social Development.

3. Under the Programme for Government, the Housing Executive has committed to improving the thermal efficiency of Housing Executive stock and to ensure that all its properties are fully double–glazed by March 2015.

4. On 8 May 2012, in response to an Assembly question, the Minister announced that he was suspending the double-glazing programme pending a rigorous review of the double-glazing specification and until the new contract provision, to include any revised specifications, can be put in place.

5. On 16 May 2012, the Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development wrote to the Minister to express the Committee’s concern in relation to the review of the double-glazing programme. The Chairperson asked the Minister to specify who had provided the advice which led to his decision to suspend the programme pending a review and to confirm on what basis the potential for significant savings had been made.

6. In his response to the Committee dated 24 May 2012, the Minister stated that his decision came about as a result of a meeting with representatives from the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion21 to discuss, ‘The Good Practice Guide for the Installation of Windows and Doors’.

7. In a BBC NI Spotlight programme, which aired on 3 July 2013, allegations were made of wrongful political interference in the NIHE, potential breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and misleading of the Assembly and the Committee for Social Development.

8. In the Spotlight programme it was alleged that the Committee was misled in the letter of 24 May 2012 as the Minister had not met with representatives from the Glass and Glazing Federation but with representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd – a company which the programme stated had links to the Democratic Unionist Party.

9. The Minister appeared before the Committee on 4 July 2013, of his own volition, to respond to the allegations made in the Spotlight programme. At the start of the meeting, the Committee agreed to hold an Inquiry into these allegations.

10. The BBC NI Spotlight allegations were also debated in a special sitting of the Assembly on 8 July 2013.

The Committee’s Approach to the Inquiry

11. The Committee drew on extensive procedural and legal advice throughout its Inquiry.

12. At its meeting of 3 October 2013, the Committee agreed, by majority vote, the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry. The Terms of Reference contain three distinct strands that the Committee agreed it would inquire into:

(i) Decision making relating to the award, modification and cancellation of NIHE maintenance contracts to establish any impropriety or irregularity and, in particular, whether the actions of Ministers were appropriate;

(ii) Allegations that the Committee was misled by the Minister for Social Development over his decision to seek a review of the specification for the supply and fitting of double-glazing;

(iii) The adequacy of actions proposed by the Minister, DSD and the NIHE to address previous, well documented failings in relation to procurement and contract management;

And

Should the Committee identify any evidence of fraud or corruption in relation to the operation of NIHE maintenance contracts and/or any actions indicating possible breaches of relevant codes of conduct, these will be reported directly to the appropriate authorities.

13. At its meeting of 3 October 2013, the Committee agreed that it would approach the Inquiry in phases and decided to initiate Phase One of the Inquiry by investigating Strand (ii) of the Terms of Reference. The Committee also agreed that it would not publish interim reports on each phase of the Inquiry.

14. At its meeting of 14 November 2013, the Committee considered and agreed an approach to the Inquiry that reflected the principles of procedural fairness. A copy of the agreed approach is included in Appendix 10.

15. The Committee commenced its evidence sessions under Phase One of the Inquiry on 14 November 2013. The Committee received oral evidence from witnesses at its meetings of 14 November 2013; 21 November 2013; 12 December 2013; and 9 January 2014. The Committee also recalled a number of witnesses to give evidence to the Committee under affirmation/oath on 13 March 2014 and 3 April 2014. The Committee heard evidence from:

  • Senior officials from the Department for Social Development
  • Senior officials from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive
  • Turkington Holdings Ltd
  • Glass and Glazing Federation
  • Minister McCausland
  • Special Adviser to Minister McCausland
  • Former Private Secretary to Minister McCausland.

16. The minutes of evidence from these sessions are at Appendix 2.

17. The Committee held a number of meetings to review and consider the evidence received under Phase One of the Inquiry. These meetings were held in closed session on 20 February 2014; 10 April 2014; 10 June 2014; and 17 June 2014.

18. At the Committee meeting of 10 June 2014 the Committee considered the option of rescinding its decision not to produce interim reports in respect of the Inquiry.

19. At the Committee meeting of 17 June 2014, the option of rescinding its decision not to produce interim reports was debated further. The Committee considered the motion: “ That the Committee for Social Development produces a stand-alone report on Phase 1 of its Inquiry”. The motion was carried by majority vote.

Phase One – Process Challenges

20. In addition to the oral briefings, a significant volume of documents have been placed before the Committee as part of its consideration of evidence under Phase One of the Inquiry. These documents were collated and analysed for relevance prior to each of the witness sessions and formed the basis for the initial questioning of witnesses.

21. There was a continual process of review of Hansard transcripts of oral evidence sessions to ensure that any conflicts in evidence were addressed. Again this was a time-intensive process.

22. The Department for Social Development was the key source of documentation for the Inquiry. However, not all of the written evidence was made available to the Committee in the first instance and subsequently this resulted in delay.

23. Furthermore, the Committee showed considerable flexibility in accommodating witnesses who were not available to attend the evidence sessions as scheduled. The availability of witnesses was a key factor in delaying Phase One of the Inquiry. The Committee was particularly concerned by this and addressed the barriers to provision of evidence to the Committee at a meeting on 9 January 2014. The Department accepted that there had been issues in sending information to the Committee in a timely fashion and that the Inquiry had been a learning experience for their officials. The Department gave an assurance that it would work with the Committee Clerk to produce a better system for the provision of papers.

24. Finally, the Committee had sought information from the BBC regarding the material that the producers of the Spotlight programme had used to prepare its programme of 3 July 2013. The BBC had initially refused the Committee’s request for information. However, the Committee resubmitted a revised request for information and in response the BBC provided all information it had received from the Department for Social Development under its Freedom of Information request in August 2012. The delays in securing the information originally requested from the BBC also contributed to the delay in the Committee’s consideration of Phase One of the Inquiry.

Background

25. On 8 May 2012 the Minister, in response to an Assembly question, indicated his concern about “the value for money of the Housing Executive’s specification to contractors for window installation”. He noted that these concerns followed from discussions “ with those in the glass and glazing industry” and that this was “ well worth looking at, because a substantial amount of money could be saved on the figure previously quoted by the Housing Executive.”

26. On 16 May 2012, the Chairperson of the Social Development Committee wrote to the Minister to express the Committee’s concern in relation to the review of the double-glazing programme. In his letter the Chairperson noted that following his attendance at the Committee’s meeting on 3 May 2012, the Minister had also stated, in relation to window installation, that “ I am advised that there is potential for significant savings to be made”. The Chairperson queried who had given him this advice and on what basis the savings had been estimated.

27. In his response to the Chairperson, dated 24 May 2012, the Minister stated that his decision to review the double-glazing specification came about as a result of a meeting in April 2012 with representatives from the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and Fusion21 to discuss the GGF Good Practice Guidelines for the Installation of windows.

28. The Minister advised that following this meeting he had asked for further research to be carried out into potential cost savings if the GGF method of installation was adopted.

29. The Minister further advised that when initial research indicated that significant cost savings could be realised, he instructed that a review of the double-glazing programme be carried out and that all new work under the programme be suspended until the review was completed.

30. A BBC NI Spotlight programme, which aired on 3 July 2013, made allegations of potential wrongful political interference in the NIHE, potential breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and potential misleading of the Assembly and the Committee for Social Development.

31. It was alleged that the Committee was misled in the letter of 24 May 2012 as the Minister had not met with representatives from the Glass and Glazing Federation but with representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd – a company which, the programme stated, had links to the Democratic Unionist Party.

32. The Minister appeared before the Committee on 4 July 2013, of his own volition, to respond to the allegations made in the Spotlight programme. In his briefing to the Committee, the Minister repeatedly stated that the meeting of the 16 April 2012 had been with representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and that his key reason for accepting the meeting was to discuss the potential savings which could be realised if the GGF guidelines on installation were followed.

33. The Committee agreed at this meeting to hold an Inquiry into the allegations made in the programme.

Timeline of Key Events

34. Figure 1 provides a timeline of key events and can be supplemented with the following information.

35. On 16 April 2012 the Minister, accompanied by his Private Secretary, Special Adviser and senior officials from DSD and the NIHE, met with representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd.

36. On 30 April 2012 the Minister wrote to the Chief Executive of the Housing Executive to request that the NIHE rigorously review the specification for the installation of double-glazing as he was concerned that it was not delivering best value for money. The Minister stated that until the review is complete all further double-glazing installations should be put on hold until the new contract provisions, to include any revised specifications, were put in place.

37. The Minister informed the Assembly of his decision in response to an Assembly Question on 8 May 2012.

38. On 10 May 2012, Mr Daithí McKay MLA tabled a written Assembly Question (AQW): “To ask the Minister for Social Development to detail all the meetings he has had in the last year in relation to the Housing Executive double-glazing scheme and who he met on each occasion”. The AQW was referred to the Housing Director’s office on 11 May 2012 and Mr Michael Sands, the senior DSD Housing official who had accompanied the Minister to the meeting with Turkington’s, prepared a draft response on 22 May 2012. The original draft of the response referred to the Minister’s meeting of 16 April 2012 with Turkington Holdings Ltd. On 24 May 2012, the Minister’s Special Adviser reviewed the draft and requested that the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd be removed and replaced with “ Representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation”. The final response to the AQW was amended to reflect the change made at the Special Adviser’s request.

39. The Chairperson of the Committee wrote to the Minister on the 16 May 2012 regarding this issue.

40. In the draft response, Mr Michael Sands again referred to the Minister’s meeting of 16 April 2012 with representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd. On 22 May 2012, Mr Sands received an email from the Minister’s private office advising him that the Minister had requested that his response to the Chairperson be amended. In particular the Minister had requested that the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd be removed from the letter to the Chairperson and replaced with “ representatives from the Glass and Glazing Federation.”

41. On 16 May 2012, the Minister’s former Private Secretary, Ms Barbara McConaghie, amended the minutes of the Minister’s meeting of 16 April 2012 with Turkington Holdings Ltd. Ms McConaghie removed the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd in the title of the minutes and changed it to “Meeting with Representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation”. There had been a number of inconsequential amendments to the minutes in the days after the meeting in April 2012 prior to this significant change one month later.

42. On 16 May 2012, Ms McConaghie also retrospectively amended the Minister’s diary entry for the meeting of 16 April 2012 to remove the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd and replace with representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation.

43. Between 7 June 2013 and 1 July 2013, the BBC sent five letters to the Minister and one letter to his Special Adviser inviting them to comment on a number of issues which were to be the subject of a Spotlight programme. In particular the BBC put it to the Minister that he had misled the Committee and the Assembly in his response to both the Assembly Question of 10 May 2012 and his letter to the Chairperson of 24 May 2012.

44. The Minister sent three responses to the BBC on 26 and 28 June 2013. In his responses, the Minister totally rejected and refuted the ‘scurrilous’ accusations that he had repeatedly lied about the circumstances of the meeting of 16 April 2012. The Minister demanded that these accusations be withdrawn and warned that if the BBC were to continue with these allegations then he would have no choice but to seek legal recourse.

45. On 28 June 2013, the Minister held a meeting with his senior officials from DSD to discuss the letters he had received from the BBC in relation to the Spotlight programme. In preparation for this meeting the DSD officials actively sought to establish what information the NIHE had released to the BBC as part of the Freedom of Information request. The NIHE confirmed in an emailed response that at no time did they think that the representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd. were representing the Glass and Glazing Federation. The Minister’s response of 28 June 2013 to the BBC, which was prepared by senior DSD officials, was issued following this meeting.

46. Following the broadcast of Spotlight programme on 3 July 2013 the Minister agreed to appear before the Committee on 4 July 2013 to address the allegations made in the programme, including the allegations that he had misled the Committee over the status of attendees at the meeting of 16 April 2012.

47. In his evidence to the Committee on 12 December 2013 as part of the Inquiry, the Minister acknowledged and apologised that he had “ inadvertently unintentionally misinformed the Committee in the letter”. He advised that this was entirely due to his genuine belief at the time that the attendees represented the Glass and Glazing Federation and to errors in the subsequent typing of the letter in respect of the meeting with Fusion 21.

Key Points of Evidence

Mr Jim McKeag (Managing Director) and Mr Ian Young (former General Manager) Turkington Holdings Ltd (14 November 2013)

48. In their evidence to the Committee on 14 November 2013, Messrs Ian Young and Jim McKeag from Turkington Holdings Ltd explained that they had acted as a sub-contractor for Mascott in the supply and installation of windows for the NIHE.

49. They explained to the Committee that in carrying out this work they had concerns regarding two key issues: health and safety issues associated with the requirement for windows to be factory glazed then fitted on site; and the method of installation which they believed could be done differently, thereby minimising the need for redecoration grants and resulting in significant cost savings to the public purse.

50. The witnesses explained that they only pursued a meeting with the Minister after failing to get a response from the NIHE on these issues despite having met and discussed these with NIHE officials in late 2011.

51. The witnesses from Turkington’s stated that since they had not heard from the NIHE they contacted and subsequently met with the Minister’s Special Adviser on 25 January 2012, and that he had suggested that they write directly to the Minister to request a meeting to discuss these issues.

52. Written evidence to the Committee indicates that on 2 February 2012, Turkington’s wrote to the Minister seeking an opportunity to meet him to discuss the potential cost savings if the Housing Executive was to follow the GGF guidelines for the fitting of double-glazed units. The letter further advised that Turkington’s were active members of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF).

53. The Minister accepted this request for a meeting and senior officials from DSD Housing Division submitted a briefing paper to the Minister and Special Adviser, as requested by the Minister’s Private Office, in preparation for the meeting. The NIHE officials who attended had not been asked to prepare a briefing.

54. The Committee noted that the briefing prepared for the Minister and Special Adviser was clearly titled “Meeting with Turkington Holdings: Double-glazing in Housing Executive Homes”.

55. Under repeated questioning from a number of Members at the evidence session on 14 November 2013 regarding their status at the meeting of the 16 April 2012, Messrs Young and McKeag were adamant that it could not possibly have been construed by anyone at the meeting that they were representing any organisation other than Turkington’s.

56. The Committee heard from Mr McKeag that “We had no authority to be there [at the meeting] on behalf of the Glass and Glazing Federation. Had we wanted to, we would have contacted the Glass and Glazing Federation”.

57. The Committee heard subsequently from Giles Willson, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), that the GGF had not been contacted by Turkington’s requesting authority to act as representatives of the GGF at the meeting of 16 April 2012.

58. He also noted that Turkington’s were long term members of the GGF and, as such knew of the established protocol to adhere to if they wanted to represent the GGF in a meeting. He also noted that no complaints had been received that the GGF had been misrepresented by Turkington’s.

59. The Committee further noted that Mr Young, who had attended the meeting with the Special Adviser on 25 January 2012, was adamant both in written and oral evidence, that the Special Adviser could not possibly have been left with the impression after the meeting of 25 January 2012 that they (Turkington’s) would write to the Minister as representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation.

Mr Michael Sands (Deputy Director of Housing, DSD), Dr John McPeake (Chief Executive NIHE - Retired March 2014) and Mr Declan Allen (Head of Procurement NIHE) (14 November 2013)

60. The Committee heard from Mr Sands who attended the meeting of the 16 April 2012 and provided a draft response to the Chairperson’s letter of the 16 May 2012.

61. Under questioning from Members Mr Sands acknowledged that he was of the opinion that the meeting of 16 April 2012 was with Turkington Holdings and that this opinion was established as a result of being aware that the Minister had received a letter from Ian Young of Turkington Holdings requesting a meeting.

62. The Committee also noted that a paper was prepared in order to brief the Minister for the meeting of the 16 April 2012 and that this was prepared by the Housing Director’s Office of which Mr Sands is Deputy Director. This paper is titled “ Meeting with Turkington Holdings: Double Glazing in Housing Executive Homes”.

63. In response to a written question posed by the Committee regarding the organisations that attended the meeting of 16 April 2012, Mr McPeake advised the Committee that the NIHE had been contacted by email on 28 February 2012 notifying it that the Minister had agreed to meet Ian Young of Turkington Holdings.

64. He informed the Committee that his diary entry for the meeting subsequently read “Meeting with Minister McCausland and Jim McKeag and Ian Young, Turkington Holdings, to discuss double glazing in NIHE houses”.

65. Mr Sands also acknowledged that during the meeting of 16 April 2012 the Turkington employees never claimed to be representing the Glass and Glazing Federation.

66. Dr McPeake supported this, stating that while there was extensive discussion at the meeting about Glass and Glazing Federation guidelines ‘They [Turkington’s] never purported to be representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation’.

67. Dr McPeake also informed the Committee that the NIHE had responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request on this issue and made it clear in their response that the meeting of the 16 April 2012 had been with representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd.

68. Mr Sands’ view on the status of the attendees was also reflected in his draft response to the Chairperson of the Committee which was sent to the Minister and which referred to the Minister having attended a meeting with Turkington Holdings Ltd. Members noted that this was also included in Mr Sands draft response to an Assembly Question on 10 May 2012.

69. In what the majority of Committee Members considered a key piece of evidence, Mr Sands informed the Committee that he had received an email from the Private Office stating that the Minister wished the reference to “Turkington Holdings Ltd” in the draft to be changed to “representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion 21”.

70. The majority of Members were concerned about Mr Sands’ admission that he did not highlight to the Minister that this gave an inaccurate representation of the meeting. However, Mr Sands responded that it was the Minister’s responsibility to accept or change drafts and because the original letter from Turkington’s had referred to them as being active members of the Glass and Glazing Federation, he (Mr Sands) had no difficulty making this change.

71. During the course of questioning Mr Sands also acknowledged that in making this change the meaning of the subsequent paragraph of the letter which begins ‘ As a result of this meeting’ also changed to suggest that the meeting of 16 April 2012 had included Fusion21 when in fact it did not.

72. Mr Sands accepted that this did not reflect the meeting of 16 April 2012 because Fusion21 had not attended that meeting.

Mr Nelson McCausland - Minister for Social Development (12 December 2013)

73. The Committee heard evidence from the Minister for the first time on 12 December 2013.

74. The Minister was clear that his sole reason for agreeing to the meeting of 16 April 2012 was to discuss potential savings in relation to the NIHE double-glazing programme.

75. He noted that the status of the individuals at the meeting was immaterial to him. However, it was his genuine belief at the time, based on the repeated reference to the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) guidelines during the meeting and their strong association with the GGF, that they (Messrs Young and McKeag), in fact represented the GGF and its interests.

76. The Minister emphasised that the importance to him was not who they were but rather the potential savings that could be realised if the GGF guidelines on installation were adopted by NIHE contractors.

77. The Minister advised the Committee that while he knew staff from Turkingtons were at the meeting it was his genuine belief that they were not representing the interests of that firm but rather the interests of the Glass and Glazing Federation.

78. As a result he subsequently asked for the letter to the Chairperson to be amended to reflect that the meeting had been with ‘representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation’. In addition, given that he had met with Fusion21 and recollected that similar issues had been discussed with them, he also asked for this to be included in the letter.

79. The Minister noted that as part of the normal process, should officials have concerns about amendments requested by him, they could advise him of these via the Private Office, but none were received in this case. As a result, the letter in its amended form was issued to the Chairperson on 24 May 2012. The Minister acknowledged that the letter was badly drafted and pointed out that the meeting with Fusion21 took place a week later than suggested in the letter.

80. Members questioned the Minister about his knowledge of the note of the meeting, which had gone through several iterations, and which finally identified Messrs Young and McKeag as representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and was titled as a “ Meeting with Representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation”. Members noted that earlier drafts had accurately listed the above attendees as representatives of Turkington’s and the meeting was also titled accordingly.

81. Importantly, the Minister stated that, as it was his position at the time that the attendees were representing the GGF, the note was finalised to reflect that position. However, he also claimed that he only actually saw the note of the meeting “ a considerable time afterwards”, “ maybe nine or ten months” and wasn’t aware until “ the past couple of weeks”, as a result of the document discovery process initiated by the Inquiry, that there had been several iterations of the note.

82. Additionally, he confirmed that he had not carried out any inquiries to determine who requested the changes to be made to the note and that his Special Adviser had told him that he did not have a role in rewriting the note.

83. The Minister did acknowledge as a result of the document discovery process and reading the evidence of the Turkington witnesses given on 14 November 2013, he had “ inadvertently unintentionally misinformed the Committee in the letter”.

84. A number of Committee Members put it to the Minister that the changes made to the letter to the Chairperson, to the Minister’s diary, to answers to draft Assembly Questions, and to the note of the meeting were not simple administrative errors but rather they were part of a clear concerted effort to remove Turkington’s from the record.

85. In addition, a number of Members highlighted that of all the attendees at the meeting only the Minister (and also, it became clear, the Special Adviser) believed the meeting had been with representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF). This was despite the Minister having access to the same information as officials which clearly stated the meeting was with Turkington’s.

86. Some Members also queried the Minister’s position that he only became aware that the attendees at the meeting of 16 April 2012 had been Turkington employees when he read the evidence they gave to the Committee on 14 November 2013.

87. Members noted that the Spotlight programme, broadcast on 3 July 2013, referred to Mr Young confirming to the BBC that he did not tell the Minister that they represented the GGF and that he could not explain why the Minister portrayed those discussions as such.

88. A number of Members also noted that the Minister had threatened legal action against the BBC on 28 June 2013 over allegations that he had met with Turkington’s rather than the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) and must therefore have been aware that there were questions being asked about the status of Messrs Young and McKeag at the meeting of 16 April 2012. However, the Minister, in response to a question, claimed that at that point he still believed the meeting had been with the GGF and that Departmental officials did not advise him otherwise.

Mr Stephen Brimstone – Special Adviser to Minister McCausland (9 January 2014)

89. The Committee heard from Mr Brimstone for the first time on 9 January 2014.

90. The Committee heard that the request for a meeting with the Minister originated from Mr Brimstone’s meeting with Turkington representatives on 25 January 2012.

91. In his evidence Mr Brimstone noted that “The confusion clearly came on the back of the pre-meeting that I had had with Turkington’s and my expectation, and I briefed the Minister to this effect, that Ian Young would be writing to him as being from the Glass and Glazing Federation”.

92. However, a number of Members noted this expectation conflicted with Mr Young’s evidence and subsequently Mr Trevor Turkington’s written evidence. Both were unequivocal that there could have been no confusion, as a result of their discussions with Mr Brimstone, that they would be writing to the Minister as Turkington’s.

93. Several Members pursued this issue but Mr Brimstone maintained that it was his ‘ recollection’ that this was the outcome of the meeting of 25 January 2012.

94. In relation to the change to the note of the meeting of 16 April 2012 Members noted that Mr Brimstone stated that the change was to reflect “ what was clearly the Minister’s opinion” that the meeting had been with the Glass and Glazing Federation and not with Turkington’s.

95. Some Members suggested that such a change would be in order if this was in fact the Minister’s belief. Mr Brimstone agreed that the change would have been made “ in the interests of accuracy” and that it would be expected the change would be made “ to reflect the Minister’s view”.

96. In challenging the view of some Members that there were efforts to write Turkington’s out of the record, other Members referred to the written evidence which clearly highlighted the references to a meeting with Turkington’s. Some Members noted that the only changes, based on the Minister’s view, were to the letter to the Chairperson of 24 May 2012 and to the final iteration of the note of the meeting of 16 April 2012.

97. Contrary to this it was pointed out to Mr Brimstone that throughout the period of the Inquiry not one person, other than the Minister, had provided written or oral evidence that indicated that the meeting of the 16 April 2012 had been with anyone other than Turkington’s. Additionally, correspondence within the Department also reflected the position of officials that the meeting was with Turkington’s. Mr Brimstone accepted that was the case.

98. Mr Brimstone reiterated that the confusion arose as a result of his expectation of a letter coming from the Glass and Glazing Federation requesting a meeting. He stated that he had not actually seen the letter when it arrived in the Department as he was on paternity leave.

99. On being questioned as to whether he had seen the email, which he had been cc’d on, noting the meeting with Turkington’s and which contained a briefing note for the Minister for the meeting, Mr Brimstone said he had not read that email. He went on to say that he was cc’d into hundreds of emails and that it was impossible to read them all.

Ms Barbara McConaghie (former Private Secretary to Minister McCausland) (9 January 2014)

100. Ms McConaghie gave evidence to the Committee under affirmation on 9 January 2014.

101. Members focussed on Ms McConaghie’s role in drafting and amending the minute of the meeting of 16 April 2012.

102. Under questioning Ms McConaghie confirmed that she had amended the minute of the meeting of 16 April 2012 despite her written evidence to the Committee that she had not seen the final version of the minute until it was provided to her by the Departmental Assembly Liaison Officer (DALO). However, while Ms McConaghie acknowledged that she had made changes to the minute she also stated that she would not have done this under her own volition, but would have been instructed by a more senior official.

103. Members noted that they had now received six versions of the minute but that the various iterations, until the final version, reflected minor changes.

104. Some Members were concerned that Ms McConaghie could not remember who instructed her to make the changes to the minute from “ Meeting with Turkington’s” to “ Meeting with Turkington’s representing Glass and Glazing Federation”. This concern arose as Ms McConaghie stated the instruction to change the minute could only have come from one of two people. When pressed on this issue she stated “I’m assuming that the instruction come from either the Minister or the special adviser since they were under the impression that the meeting was with the Glass and Glazing Federation”.

105. She previously suggested that Mr Sands might also have made this request but subsequently ruled him out as he “ was under the impression that the meeting was with Turkington’s”.

106. Members also questioned Ms McConaghie regarding why she had also retrospectively changed the Minister’s diary entry for the 16 April 2012 to reflect that the meeting was with the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) rather than Turkington’s. Ms McConaghie said that it was not unusual for her to make changes to the diary but she did not know why the diary entry was changed.

107. Members also noted that the changes to both the minute and the retrospective change to the Minister’s diary occurred on the same day – 16 May 2012 – one month after the meeting had taken place.

108. When asked whether she had spoken to Mr Brimstone about a forthcoming letter from the GGF Ms McConaghie stated that she did remember Mr Brimstone telling her that the GGF would be writing to the Minister inviting him to a meeting. However, Members heard that when the invitation came in she treated it as an invitation from Turkington’s stating “Basically, I have to go on what was written, you know?” This referred to the fact that the letter that was sent requesting a meeting with the Minister was from Turkington’s.

109. She noted that Mr Brimstone was not available to clarify the issue so, as is the procedure, she sent an email of 22 February 2012 to officials for advice on whether the Minister should accept or decline this invitation.

110. Some Members advised that, given the typical busy day of a Private Secretary and the fact that the incident took place two years previously, it would be understandable for a person not to recollect all the details regarding changes to one particular minute for one meeting. Ms McConaghie also acknowledged having a bad memory and this contributing to her inability to recall the details.

111. In conclusion, Ms McConaghie stated that she had no “ personal motivation” to change the minute and that “There is no reason for me to go in to change it, unless I was instructed to do it”.

Mr Nelson McCausland - Minister for Social Development (3 April 2014)

112. The Committee considered further evidence from the Minister, under affirmation, on two occasions. The Chairperson called an early adjournment of the meeting on 13 March 2014 and this was reconvened on 3 April 2014.

113. In a short opening statement on 3 April 2014 the Minister addressed issues relating to his meeting with Departmental officials on 28 June 2013 and Ms McConaghie’s inability to recollect who had given her instructions to change the minutes and diary entries. He then stated that he had nothing more to add to his evidence given to the Committee on 12 December 2013.

114. The Minister was asked whether he had discussed with his Special Adviser Ms McConaghie’s assumption in her evidence of 9 January, that it was either the Minister or the SpAd who was likely to have instructed her to change the minutes and the diary entry. The Minister referred Members to the SpAd’s evidence and noted that he himself had nothing more to add, other than he had no recollections.

115. When questioned about an answer he had given previously to the Committee that the note had been finalised to reflect the Minister’s position that the meeting had been with the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), the Minister reiterated this was the case but noted that he did not know how that happened.

116. The Minister went on to say “The position was that, as the Minister in the Department and therefore responsibility at the top of the Department, I was under the impression that it was the Glass and Glazing Federation. That then obviously became what I would describe as the accepted narrative, and the note was finalised to reflect that”.

117. Some Members suggested that, given it was only the Minister or the SpAd who had been identified as believing the meeting was with the GGF, it was strongly suggestive that it was either the Minister or the SpAd who had instructed Ms McConaghie to make the changes to the note. However, the Minister refused to speculate stating “I have no clear knowledge and recollection”.

118. One Member returned to a point made in previous evidence regarding the Minister’s position that he was unaware that Messrs Young and McKeag had represented Turkington’s at the 16 April 2012 meeting until he had an opportunity to read their evidence given to the Committee on 14 November 2013.

119. The Member noted the Minister had had communications with the BBC and was therefore aware of Mr Young’s statement to them regarding his status at the meeting, he was also aware of the NIHE position issued via a FoI to the BBC that NIHE officials believed the attendees were representing Turkington’s. It was stated that this constituted evidence that the Minister was aware of which suggested the contrary to the Minister’s then stated belief.

120. However, the Minister reiterated that “there was no firm evidence” and that the issue of the status of the Turkington’s attendees only arose late in June 2013 in letters from the BBC and that it did not seem to be particularly important.

121. He emphasised that the important issue to him was the potential cost savings, estimated to be in the region of £15m.

122. The Minister was reminded that his SpAd had referred to being “shocked” in July 2013 after seeing the letter of 2 February 2012 as it was clearly from Turkington’s. He was asked whether the SpAd had brought this to the Minister’s attention. The Minister said that he had spoken to the SpAd who on reflection believed the word ‘ surprised’ would have been more appropriate than ‘ shocked’. The Minister then stated that he had nothing more to add on the matter. He then later stated that both he and the SpAd remained under the impression that the meeting had been with representatives of the GGF until the evidence session on 14 November 2013.

123. On further questioning regarding the importance of the status of the attendees the Minister restated his position, made in previous evidence, that “It made absolutely no difference whatsoever in what capacity they came — none at all”.

Mr Stephen Brimstone – Special Adviser to Minister McCausland (3 April 2014)

124. The Committee invited Mr Brimstone to give additional evidence under affirmation.

125. A number of Members questioned Mr Brimstone regarding his stated ‘ shock’ at seeing the letter from Turkington’s for the first time in July 2013.

126. Mr Brimstone noted that the letter had the Turkington logo as opposed to the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) logo but he was still of the belief in July 2013 after reading the letter that while the attendees were from Turkington’s they were acting as representatives of the GGF.

127. On questioning from Members as to whether he raised his concerns with the Minister regarding the letter Mr Brimstone said, in relation to the Turkington logo being on the letter rather than the GGF logo, “I’m fairly sure that would’ve been raised, but I can’t go any further than that, Chair”.

128. Some Members were concerned that while Mr Brimstone acknowledged that had he seen the letter from Turkington’s on February 2012 it would have “ raised flags”, yet it didn’t raise flags when he did see the letter in July 2013. This was despite the public interest and the Committee announcing it was going to hold an Inquiry into this matter.

129. Mr Brimstone stated that despite having read the letter after the Spotlight programme was aired in July 2013 it didn’t ring “ any great alarm bells” or give him cause to investigate further. He stated that at this point he still believed that the meeting had been with Turkington staff representing the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) “despite what the letter said”.

130. Under further questioning Mr Brimstone said that if he had seen the letter in April 2012 he “probably” “would have sought clarification as to who they were actually representing” on the basis that he was expecting a letter from the GGF inviting the Minister to a meeting.

131. Mr Brimstone confirmed that he had personally changed a draft answer to an Assembly Question (AQ) on 24 May 2012 to reflect that the meeting of 16 April 2012 had been with representatives of the GGF rather than with Turkington’s.

132. He further explained that in the letter to the Chairperson dated 24 May 2012 the “Minister made that change” and unlike changes to Assembly Questions this change did not go into the “system” and was “changed at the private office level”. Members noted the apparent disparity between Mr Brimstone’s evidence that the changes to the letter had not entered the system and his statement that once the Minister had signed off on the letter “ there was nobody came back to say, “Minister, you are wrong in that”. And that is normally what would happen”. Earlier evidence by Mr Sands had indicated that he had made the change on request from the Minister which is suggestive of the changes to the letter entering the ‘system’.

133. Mr Brimstone also noted that while the change to the Assembly Question was initiated by him, this was only to reflect the Minister’s thinking.

134. Members pointed to the fact that while Mr Brimstone acknowledged that he initiated change to the letter to the Chairperson and to the AQ to reflect the Minister’s thinking, he maintained that he had no role in initiating the same change to the minute of the meeting of 16 April 2012.

135. When pressed further on whether he could rule out the possibility that he had caused the change to the minute to be made he replied “ Yes”.

Mr Will Haire – Permanent Secretary, Department for Social Development (3 April 2014)

136. Mr Haire was invited to give evidence under affirmation on 3 April 2014.

137. The Committee’s questioning of Mr Haire focussed on the challenge function exercised by officials in relation to the Minister’s belief that he had met with the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) rather than Turkington’s. The Committee also subsequently requested written clarification on a number of issues from Mr Haire.

138. The majority of Committee Members were concerned that, despite the extensive documentation held by the Department which made it clear from the outset that the meeting was with Turkington’s, the Departmental officials accepted the Minister’s position that the meeting was with the GGF.

139. Mr Haire explained that there was a “very strong line from the Minister at the time” that the meeting of 16 April 2012 was with the GGF and this was based on the SpAd’s view of his meeting with Ian Young and Trevor Turkington on 25 January 2012.

140. The majority of Members expressed their surprise that this position could be allowed to be sustained in the face of the evidence and the view of the senior housing official who had also attended the meeting with Turkington’s. One Member pressed Mr Haire on this issue stating that it was a question of fact who the meeting had been with, not one of opinion or understanding.

141. Mr Haire noted that the key issue in shaping the Minister’s position was the pre-meeting held on 25 January 2012 between the SpAd and Ian Young and Trevor Turkington. Mr Haire stated “..that the key element in this process was coming from their understanding at the pre-meeting and the understanding that the political adviser took from that and his discussions with the Minister”.

142. Mr Haire went on to say in respect of how Ministerial decisions are progressed in the Department that “The Minister makes the decision, he’s the head of the Department, it’s the Minister’s decision. He makes decisions and the system then puts that in place”.

143. When questioned by the Committee on how the changes to the minutes of the meeting of 16 April 2012 came about, Mr Haire replied that he could not give any more insight into that issue other than that which others had already given to the Committee.

144. Under questioning Mr Haire queried why the Committee appeared to be so concerned about how the Minister’s decision was communicated to Ms McConaghie to initiate the change to the minute. He referred to the Committee already having heard evidence that the change was made under the Minister’s direction though the Minister himself was clear that he didn’t directly communicate this to Ms McConaghie.

145. He explained, in relation to how the Minister’s position is communicated, that “it is not that he necessarily himself said it but the point is his volition is made clear in the private office and then the system runs and does these things. That’s how Departments run”.

146. Members noted Mr Haire’s comment that “He’s [the Minister’s] taken his position, and that is the position of the Department”.

147. A number of Members questioned Mr Haire on his written submission to the Committee regarding discussions held in the Department in June 2013 and why, in the face of queries from the BBC, the Department continued to maintain that the meeting had been with the GGF. It was pointed out to Mr Haire that he had said in his submission: “However, the Minister still believed at this time [June 2013] that this meeting was with representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation and officials were not aware of alternative evidence to indicate this was not the case.”

148. Mr Haire explained that the key issue at that time was that there was no new evidence. He said “we had no additional material in front of us, on the 28th [June 2013] , which changed the view which we had before that process.” Mr Haire went on to say “So, there is nothing new. The only thing we had was a statement from the BBC at that stage.”

149. Mr Haire noted that once the Department had the evidence provided to the Committee by the Turkington representatives on 14 November 2013 the Minister changed his position.

Mr Jim McKeag (Managing Director) and Mr Ian Young (former General Manager) Turkington Holdings Ltd (3 April 2014)

150. Members invited Messrs Young and McKeag back under oath to address Mr Brimstone’s position that he had been left with the impression following the meeting of 25 January 2012 that Mr Young would be writing to the Minister as a representative of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) to request a meeting with the Minister.

151. Mr Young had previously stated that there was nothing said at the meeting of 25 January 2012 to give the impression that he would be sending the letter in that capacity. Members noted that the Minister and SpAd had placed a great emphasis on the meeting of 25 January 2012 as the origin of their understanding that the letter would be from the GGF and, therefore, that the attendees subsequently represented the GGF at the meeting on 16 April 2012. This was confirmed by Mr Haire’s evidence.

152. Mr Young indicated, as he had in previous evidence, that the discussion at the meeting of 25 January 2012 focussed on the GGF guidelines for installation. However, regarding the meeting held on 25 January a Member asked “And there’s no way that you feel anyone at the pre-meeting in the Radisson could have left with any impression other than that this was to be a meeting with Turkington’s?” To which Mr Young replied “No, definitely not. No”.

153. The Committee accepted that Turkington’s had not in any way benefitted from their engagement with the Department and noted that while they had tendered for the new double-glazing contracts which incorporated the new installation method they had not been successful in the tendering process.

Committee’s Consideration of Evidence

154. In reaching a conclusion on whether the Minister had deliberately misled the Committee, Members took into consideration a number of key issues provided in both written and oral evidence throughout the Inquiry.

Meeting of the 25 January 2012

155. The Committee agreed that the meeting of 25 January 2012 was central to the events that followed and that the evidence in respect of this meeting was therefore significant. In particular, the Committee agreed that the written and oral evidence provided by the witnesses from Turkington Holdings on 14 November 2013 and later under oath on 3 April 2014 was significant and inconsistent with that given by Mr Brimstone, on 9 January 2014 and 3 April 2014, in his appraisal of that meeting.

156. On this issue Members were presented with Mr Brimstone’s stated impression, following the meeting of 25 January 2012 that any subsequent letter would come from the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF). However, the Committee noted the evidence of Mr Young that while the GGF guidelines were discussed at this meeting, both he and Mr Turkington were unequivocal they had represented Turkington’s, not the GGF, at the meeting and there was nothing that they said that could possibly have given Mr Brimstone the impression that they would forward a letter requesting a meeting as representatives of the GGF.

157. When it was put to Mr Brimstone that his impression was therefore not rooted in anything he replied “I accept that” but went on to say he could only give his interpretation.

158. In relation to this issue Members also considered the letter sent by Turkington’s to the Minister seeking a meeting with him to discuss the Glass and Glazing Federation guidelines for window installation. The Committee noted that while the letter refers to Turkington’s being active members of the GGF they at no time purport to be acting as representatives of the GGF. The Committee accepted that this is consistent with Mr Young and Mr Turkington’s appraisal of the meeting of 25 January 2012 with Mr Brimstone that they had represented Turkington’s and would be writing to the Minister in that capacity.

159. The Committee therefore accepts the evidence from Turkington’s that they had represented their own company in discussions with Mr Brimstone on 25 January 2012 and would be seeking a meeting with the Minister as Turkington’s; and did not give Mr Brimstone any reason to suggest they would be writing to the Minister as representing the GGF.

Documentation held by the Department

160. Members also agreed that once the letter from Turkington’s was received by the Department it was treated as such – not as an invitation from the GGF. The invitation was circulated to relevant officials and marked clearly as a request from Turkington’s to meet the Minister.

161. Members noted that the Minister’s original diary entry for the meeting date stated it was a meeting with Turkington’s and the briefing prepared by officials for the meeting was also clearly marked as a briefing for the meeting with Turkington’s.

162. Members also considered the oral evidence from the two senior officials from the Housing Executive and the senior DSD official who accompanied the Minister to the meeting of 16 April 2012. These senior officials were clear in their evidence that they had understood the meeting of 16 April 2012 to be with Turkington Holdings Ltd and not the Glass and Glazing Federation. Members noted Mr McPeake referred to the entry in his diary which also referred to a meeting with Turkington’s scheduled for the 16 April 2012.

163. The Committee also noted that the Turkington officials stated in their evidence that they made it clear who they were representing at the meeting by providing an introduction about Turkington Holdings at the start of the meeting.

164. The majority of Committee Members therefore agreed that at the time of the meeting there was a common acceptance among officials that the meeting held on 16 April 2012 was with Turkington’s.

165. Most Members of the Committee were unconvinced by Mr Brimstone’s evidence that he had not seen a copy of the letter of 2 February 2012 from Turkington Holdings Ltd until July 2013. These Members also found it difficult to accept Mr Brimstone’s evidence that if he had seen Turkington’s letter when it arrived in February 2012 or in April 2012 it would have raised flags in his mind, but that he did not have those same concerns when he saw the letter in July 2013 despite the allegations made in the Spotlight programme and the initiation of a Committee Inquiry into the matter.

Changes to records

166. The Committee noted that the senior housing official who attended the 16 April 2012 meeting drafted the response to the Chairperson of the Committee, in which he referred to the Minister meeting with Turkington’s, as reflecting his understanding of their status at the meeting.

167. The Committee noted that this letter (dated 24 May 2012) was changed prior to being sent to the Chairperson to reflect the Minister’s stated understanding that the meeting had been with the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF).

168. The Committee also noted that the entry in the Minister’s diary which indicated he had a meeting with Turkington’s on 16 April 2012 was changed retrospectively on 16 May 2012 to indicate that the meeting had been with the Glass and Glazing Federation.

169. The Committee also noted that an Assembly Question on 10 May 2012 on this matter was also changed to reflect that the Minister had met the GGF.

170. The majority of Members were also concerned that the final version of the official note of the meeting was changed to reflect that the meeting had been with the GGF and that the Turkington attendees were listed as representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation when in previous versions they had been correctly listed as being from Turkington’s.

171. The Committee accepted Ms McConaghie’s evidence that on 16 May 2012 she would not have acted of her own volition in changing the minutes of the meeting of 16 April 2012 with Turkington Holdings Ltd and the corresponding entry in the Minister’s diary relating to this meeting. Rather she would have been instructed to make these changes.

172. However, most Members found it difficult to accept that having indicated that she assumed that only the Minister or Special Adviser were likely to have given her these instructions, on the basis that only they were of the opinion the meeting had been with the GGF, she could not recollect which of them had issued these instructions.

173. The Committee also noted that the Minister and Mr Brimstone either could not recall or denied having any part in giving instructions to change the minutes and diary entry. The Committee also noted that both Mr Brimstone and the Minister stated in their evidence that they were unaware of the various iterations of the minutes until December 2013.

174. The Committee accepted that, regardless of how the message was communicated, it was clear from both the Minister’s evidence and that of the Permanent Secretary that it was the Minister’s position that the meeting had been with the GGF and the ‘system’ put that in place.

175. The Committee would also put on record the Minister’s position that these changes were made in order to reflect his genuine belief at the time that the meeting had been with representatives of the GGF.

Lack of Departmental/Ministerial Challenge

176. The majority of Members were deeply concerned at the lack of challenge exhibited by senior civil servants when the Minister requested factually correct information contained in the letter to the Chairperson to be changed, namely the removal of Turkington’s and the insertion of Glass and Glazing Federation (and Fusion21) instead. The Committee noted that this lack of challenge also extended to the changes to Assembly Questions requested by the SpAd.

177. The majority of Members also expressed their concern in relation to the evidence provided by the Permanent Secretary in which he stated that once the Minister had made his decision that the meeting had been with the Glass and Glazing Federation, this then became the Department’s position.

178. Most Members found it difficult to believe that senior civil servants accepted the view of the SpAd and the Minister in relation to the meeting of the 16 April 2012, and allowed this to become the prevailing position of the Department, in the face of the facts held by senior officials.

179. The majority of Members considered that this acceptance may have led not only to the Committee being misled by the Minister, but also the Assembly given the Minister’s response through Assembly Questions on this matter. However, the Committee also noted that, following their evidence to Committee, the original answers to Assembly Questions had subsequently been changed by the Department to reflect the actual status of the Turkington representatives at the meeting of 16 April 2012.

180. The majority of Members expressed surprise regarding the Minister’s evidence that he only became aware that the representatives from Turkington Holdings Ltd had represented the Glass and Glazing Federation at the meeting of 16 April 2012 when he read the Hansard transcript of their oral evidence to the Committee on 14 November 2013.

181. In relation to this Members noted that despite the broadcast of a programme on 3 July 2013 which suggested the Minister may have misled the Committee and the initiation of an Inquiry into this allegation and other serious matters raised in the programme, the Minister never sought to seek further clarification from his officials or attendees at the meeting as to their views on the matter, or to investigate the nature of information held by the Department on the meeting.

182. The majority of Members found the Minister’s reasoning for not querying this at an earlier juncture tenuous i.e. between April 2012 and December 2013 no-one came forward to him with any information to suggest anything to the contrary.

Committee Conclusions

183. At the Committee meeting of 17 June 2014 Members discussed the written and oral evidence that it had received in relation to Phase 1 of its Inquiry. On the basis of this evidence it considered whether the Minister may have deliberately or inadvertently misled the Committee.

184. During deliberations, Members considered the Minister’s evidence to the Committee on 12 December 2013 in which he accepted that he had “ inadvertently unintentionally misinformed the Committee in the letter” of 24 May 2012. It was considered by the majority of Members that the determined efforts that the Minister and his Special Adviser made to remove Turkington’s from the record would suggest that it was neither unintentional nor inadvertent.

185. A consensus could not be reached as to whether the Minister had deliberately or inadvertently misled the Committee. The following motion was therefore proposed: That the Minister for Social Development deliberately misled the Committee for Social Development. The Committee divided on the motion and it was carried by a majority vote.

186. The majority of Members also expressed their deep concern about the inaction of senior civil servants in the Department for Social Development to robustly challenge the Minister when they knew he was factually incorrect in his statements to the Assembly and Committee.

187. In accordance with its procedural fairness guidelines the Committee agreed to provide the report to those individuals it deemed may be adversely affected by its findings and to include these as received in an appendix to the report.

 

Download the full report here.

There is also an addendum to the report which can be downloaded here.

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