Alex Salmond has refused to appear before a Holyrood committee on Wednesday after a submission about “malicious” attempts to smear him was edited following legal warnings from the Crown Office.
The former first minister of Scotland had been poised to give evidence to MSPs on Wednesday afternoon about an alleged conspiracy by his former colleagues, but pulled out after a document was heavily redacted at the Crown Office’s request.
His lawyer, David McKie, has suggested Salmond could appear on Friday instead to give him time to consider how that affects his testimony. “They put a torpedo through part of his evidence,” said a source close to Salmond.
Sources at the parliament said it is closed on Friday, presenting serious logistical challenges, but a Holyrood spokesperson said the committee was meeting in private session on Wednesday morning to discuss its response.
Salmond’s decision to pull out came after the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, told Holyrood it had “grave concerns” one of his submissions could be in contempt of court following a ruling during his criminal trial in March last year.
His submission was then redacted by Holyrood lawyers. It involves allegations which Salmond argues are central to his explosive claims that Scottish National party and government figures wanted to destroy his reputation “even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.
McKie told the parliament at 6.30pm on Tuesday those changes were a “serious legal impediment” for Salmond, who had been due to travel down to Holyrood from his home in Aberdeenshire on Wednesday morning.
Salmond had submitted several documents to the parliamentary inquiry into the devolved government’s botched investigation into two allegations of sexual assault against him. The submissions were published by Holyrood on Monday night after weeks of legal wrangling.
Within hours of their publication, prosecutors wrote urgently to the Scottish parliament, calling on it to either withdraw or redact one of Salmond’s documents. The parliament’s corporate body went into emergency session early on Tuesday morning and agreed to edit it.
A Crown Office spokesperson would not confirm that it had complained or why. “We don’t confirm what we may have done about concerns we may have. One of the risks of providing details is that the potential impact of any breach may be worsened,” he said.
In one submission, which remains unchanged on the parliament website, Salmond claims the group he alleges plotted against him included Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, who is Sturgeon’s husband, as well as the party’s compliance officer, Ian McCann, and Liz Lloyd, Sturgeon’s chief of staff in the government.
Salmond said the Holyrood inquiry had already found evidence of behaviour by officials, advisers and ministers “which taken individually could be put down to incompetence, albeit on an epic scale”.
“However, taken together, and over such a prolonged period, it becomes impossible to explain such conduct as inadvertent coincidence. The inescapable conclusion is of a malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland.”
After winning his judicial review in January 2019, when a court ruled the internal inquiry was “tainted by apparent bias” and unlawful, Salmond was charged with 14 counts of sexual assault, including an attempted rape. He was then acquitted of every charge after a two-week trial in March 2020.
His allegations were immediately rebutted by the SNP, Sturgeon and Lloyd, who accused the former first minister of failing to produce any evidence to justify his claims.
In her own submission to the inquiry, Lloyd said any suggestion she sought to influence the government’s complaints procedure used to investigate Salmond in 2018 was “demonstrably false”. Nor did she have any say in the government’s decisions about the judicial review he mounted and then won against its complaints investigations.
She rejected any insinuations she had leaked a report accusing Salmond of sexual misconduct to the Daily Record as unfounded. “I reject the allegation in its entirety and note that it is not substantiated by any evidence and is founded on a number of claims that are false,” Lloyd said.
Sturgeon also rebutted Salmond’s claims in television interviews broadcast before his submissions were published late on Monday evening.
“He [Salmond] has made claims, or he appears to be making claims or suggestions there was some kind of conspiracy against him or concerted campaign against him. There is not a shred of evidence about that, so this is the opportunity for him to replace insinuation and assertion with evidence,” she told STV.
Late last week, Holyrood’s ruling corporate body, made up of party representatives, agreed Salmond’s dossier could be published after Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, amended a court order she imposed during Salmond’s trial.
Salmond alleges the strongest evidence of a conspiracy is contained in text messages in the evidence from this trial, which the Crown Office has refused to release for legal reasons.
But he argues evidence already given to the committee clearly showed the Scottish government’s complaints policy was designed to snare him, by making its terms retrospective to include previous ministers.
He accused Sturgeon and Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary of the Scottish government, of doing so in meetings in late 2017 when the policy was being drafted.
Evans and other senior civil servants have already denied under oath that they deliberately pursued Salmond. Backed by Sturgeon, Evans said the policy was necessary and lawful to ensure government employees had a safe workplace.