Alex Salmond declines invitation to give evidence to MSPs investigating Scottish government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him
- Alex Salmond rejected invitation to appear in front of the complaints committee
- Former first minister said rejection was due to Covid ‘public health concerns’
- It comes amid tightening of Covid restrictions by first minister Nicola Sturgeon
Alex Salmond has rejected an invitation to appear in front of the committee looking into the Scottish government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him.
The former first minister was due to appear before the committee on January 19 but argued it would ‘send the wrong message’ to attend in person amid the Covid lockdown.
The former first minister was invited on Tuesday by Linda Fabiani, convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, to appear next week.
Plans were made to have Mr Salmond testify under oath in person before the committee as part of the inquiry into the way harassment complaints about him were dealt with by the Scottish government.
Alex Salmond has rejected an invitation to appear in front of the committee looking into the Scottish government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him saying it would ‘send the wrong message’ amid Covid restrictions
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s appearances in front of a Holyrood inquiry have previously already been delayed by Covid curbs.
But in a letter published on Wednesday from Mr Salmond’s lawyer David McKie, he rejects the invite due to public health concerns.
His letter said Salmond believes a personal appearance would ‘send the wrong message’, the letter said.
Alex Salmond and current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s (pictured) appearances in front of a Holyrood inquiry have previously already been delayed by Covid curbs
‘Our client cannot accept your invitation to attend your committee in person next week,’ the letter said.
‘He remains willing to attend and give evidence, however.
‘As we understand it, the Presiding Officer has advised against all in-person committee meetings on health and safety grounds.
‘Our client feels very strongly that it would send a very bad message to the rest of the country if he were to flout that, particularly at a time when the present First Minister is set to further tighten restrictions on everyone else.’
The letter said Mr Salmond would instead be willing to appear on 16 February.
The letter was revealed shortly after tighter restrictions were announced by Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament.
In addition to the current rules, people picking up takeaway meals will be barred from entering eateries, instead having to wait outside, from Saturday.
And new laws will be brought in to put a legal requirement on businesses to force them to allow staff to work from home if they can do so.
In Mr Salmond’s letter, his lawyer Mr McKie also goes on to raise doubts about the effectiveness of meeting virtually.
Alex Salmond (centre) was previously pictured with his solicitor David Mckie (left). Beverley Atkinson (right) and adviser Campbell Gunn (second right) are also members of his legal team
The committee previously met virtually on Tuesday when Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans returned to the committee.
Ms Fabiani bemoaned the ‘particularly difficult’ session in which a number of MSPs had ‘substantial difficulties’ and struggled to be heard due to connection issues.
Mr McKie said in the letter: ‘According to widespread reports in today’s press it is clear that the remote committee format had very substantial difficulties and we cannot imagine any disagreement between us that it would not be at all suitable for a significant evidence session.’
Mr Salmond’s team has also been in a legal wrangle with the Crown Office over the disclosure of documents obtained by him during his trial at the High Court last year where he was cleared of a series of charges of sexual misconduct.
The Crown Office said he would be committing a criminal offence by divulging the information to the committee, and the letter said an extension would allow more time to sort any issues out.
The letter asks that the committee seeks Crown Office assurances that Mr Salmond will not face prosecution for the evidence he gives on the day.
Mr McKie suggested, in principle, Mr Salmond appearing before the committee on February 16, allowing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to appear the following week and a further month for a report to be drafted by the committee.
His letter added: ‘Our client understands your anxiety to finish your hearings and therefore we can suggest 16 February (in principle at this stage) for an in-person evidence session.
‘That will give the clerks time to work out the feasibility of a safe hearing in light of the review of lockdown due at the end of the month and to recover the further material evidence.
‘Assuming you still want to call the first minister the week after our client then, as we understand it, the parliamentary timetable would still give a full month for the committee to agree and publish a report to parliament’.
Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News. Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Miss Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.
April 2, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Miss Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.
April 23, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Miss Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.
June 6, 2018: Miss Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.
June 7, 2018: Miss Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.
July 14, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.
July 18, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Miss Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’
This is the last time Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints. He goes on to win this and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.
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