Priestly drafted Dixon letter of complaint to PAC

The BBC are reporting, ahead of this evening’s UTV Live [added link], that they have seen an email sent by suspended NI Regional Development Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly to Independent Review Team member Peter Dixon following the 1st July PAC meeting. From the BBC report

The email sent by Mr Priestly on 2 July followed a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. At the meeting questions were asked about the independence of a review into NIW, which led to the sackings.

It confirms that he drafted a letter which was later sent to the PAC by one of the review team, Peter Dixon.

Mr Dixon only made two changes to Mr Priestly’s draft. Mr Dixon added a threat of legal action and a line that said that the integrity of the review team had been unfairly called into question. [added emphasis]

That’s the letter Mick noted here, and which was apparently ‘received’ by Priestly on the 5th July when he forwarded it to other Regional Development civil servants.  And it’s the same letter that was subsequently withdrawn with these comments from Gerry Loughran, Chairman of Phoenix Gas

Mr Dixon was aggrieved by what he interpreted as unfair comments. He has very limited knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability processes and in particular the work of the PAC. I have now explained all this to him and he wishes me to acknowledge that, in the light of his better understanding, the terms of his letter dated 5th July 2010 are not justified and he wishes to withdraw the letter.[Emphasis added]

Now we are told that Priestly had actually drafted the letter, reportedly at Dixon’s request [Updated.  Having listened to Martina Purdy read from the email, the suggestion to write to the Chairman of the PAC came from Priestly who then “had a go” at a draft.  Adds – see below]  Just a case of “very limited knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability process”?

And what does that fact say about the relationship between Paul Priestly, the Permanent Secretary of DRD, and Peter Dixon, a member of that Independent Review Team?

Adds  And according to the UTV report

Mr Priestly’s email was copied to two colleagues and the head of the water service Laurence MacKenzie.

Mr MacKenzie has issued a statement admitting deleting the email and defended his action, saying he was not involved in this correspondence.

I’m assuming that’s Priestly’s 2 July email with the draft letter…  as the UTV report also notes

The email sent by the Permanent Secretary to Phoenix Gas chief executive Peter Dixon was deleted some time ago from the Department for Regional Development and NI Water records.

Update  In relation to my earlier update on who suggested the draft letter, the BBC have published the text of the email in question.


We spoke.

I can understand your upset and frustration about some of the events at the PAC yesterday, especially when you and your colleagues on the IRT have no opportunity to respond.

You asked for my advice and I suggested that you should write to the PAC Chairman. You asked for a first draft of a letter you might send.

I have had a go at a draft. No doubt you will wish to tailor it to your own style and to reinforce any particular points you wish to make.

Best regards


Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary

Department for Regional Development

Updated And here’s text of the draft letter sent by Paul Priestly to Peter Dixon for PAC [pdf file]

And  Comparison with the letter sent shows that Dixon added one final sentence to the draft letter provided by Priestly

In closing, be assured that if I can establish that legal proceedings are open to me, on a purely personal basis, I will have no hesitation in taking them.

The rest of the two-page letter is all there in the draft.