Alex Salmond pulls out of Holyrood appearance after evidence redacted

Dan Sanderson
·4 min read
Alex Salmond's long awaited witness appearance is in doubt - Getty Images Europe/ Jeff J Mitchell
Alex Salmond's long awaited witness appearance is in doubt - Getty Images Europe/ Jeff J Mitchell

Alex Salmond has cancelled his testimony to a Holyrood inquiry after a dossier of claims he made against Nicola Sturgeon was heavily censored following pressure from Scottish prosecutors.

Opposition MSPs said that the Scottish Parliament was left facing a “credibility crisis” after Mr Salmond’s written submission was finally published by the legislature on Monday, only to be pulled Tuesday morning, on the eve of his scheduled appearance.

The Crown Office expressed “grave concerns” over the publication of the evidence, believed to relate to a court order that prevents publication of information likely to lead to the identification of complainers in Mr Salmond’s criminal trial.

A redacted version of Mr Salmond's dossier, with around 500 words deleted, was released on Tuesday afternoon.

However, Mr Salmond's legal team claimed there was no legal basis for the changes and he pulled out of giving evidence.

His camp believes the episode adds weight to his belief that a tyrannical Crown Office, the equivalent body to the Crown Prosecution Service in England, is inappropriately meddling in the Holyrood inquiry in an attempt to protect Ms Sturgeon and her allies.

The Crown Office is run by the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, who under the Scottish legal and political system is also a member of Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet.

Mr Salmond has already accused the Crown Office of wilfully misinterpreting legislation around the disclosure of evidence to obstruct the parliamentary committee, a situation he described as “extraordinary and totally unacceptable”.

Liz Smith, a veteran Tory MSP, said Tuesday had been “the most depressing day for the reputation of the Scottish Parliament” in her 14 years there. She added: “It is currently failing in its duty to hold government to account and properly serve the people of Scotland. This badly needs fixing.”

The parts of Mr Salmond’s submission which has now been censored include details of the run-up to a meeting in early April 2018 at Ms Sturgeon's home, which she told Holyrood was when she first became aware he was being investigated by the civil service for sexual harassment allegations.

Mr Salmond claims she knew about it earlier, and if she is shown to have deliberately misled Holyrood, she would be expected to resign.

The redacted sections of the evidence were being widely shared online on Tuesday night, after members of the public downloaded the original versions.

However, under Holyrood rules, the decision to unpublish the evidence could restrict Mr Salmond’s testimony, as MSPs are not allowed to ask about testimony that is not published.

Mr Salmond's lawyer, David McKie, said the “eleventh hour” decision to redact evidence “has created a significant legal impediment to his oral evidence”.

The Scottish parliament has said it is unable to share with either Mr Salmond or the public the basis of the Crown’s concerns.

Mr Salmond has raised the prospect of appearing on Friday instead, subject to legal advice, with the committee to meet on Wednesday to discuss its next move.

In a letter, Mr McKie added: “It is now clearly impossible for him to attend [on Wednesday] in these circumstances, but he remains willing to attend on Friday. He accepts that is entirely in the hands of the committee.”

There are calls for Mr Wolffe to make a statement to explain his department's interference in the work of a parliamentary committee.

The Holyrood inquiry is investigating the civil service probe into sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, which was found to be unlawful, not the criminal investigation, which saw him cleared of all charges.

Neil Findlay, a Labour MSP, said the botched civil service case had cost taxpayers at least £1 million and expressed concern over the decision to alter Mr Salmond's evidence.

He said: “This is a crisis for the credibility of this parliament. We need someone to come and explain to us what has happened. We simply cannot let this pass without members interrogating that decision.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB [Scottish Parliament Corporate Body] agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office. We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”