Alex Salmond declines invite to give evidence at inquiry into botched handling of harassment complaints against him

Alex Salmond will not appear to give evidence to the Harassment Complaints Committee next week after declining an invite on the basis it would “send a very bad message” as Covid-19 rules are set to be tightened.

Alex Salmond has declined an invite to appear in front of the Scottish Parliament's harassment complaints committee
Alex Salmond has declined an invite to appear in front of the Scottish Parliament's harassment complaints committee

The former first minister was invited to give evidence on Tuesday 19 January, but has instead suggested he appear in front of the committee on Tuesday 16 February.

In a letter sent by his solicitors at Levy & McRae, David McKie says Mr Salmond is still “willing to attend and give evidence”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Holyrood inquiry is examining the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond which led to a £500,000 legal bill after a judicial review was conceded on the grounds of “apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a high-profile trial in Edinburgh last year.

The rejection of the invite from the former First Minister comes a day after the permanent secretary at the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, gave evidence to the inquiry over video and was beset by technical difficulties.

Committee members had hoped to interrogate both Mr Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon in person in the coming weeks, but in-person committee meetings are currently advised against on health and safety grounds.

In the letter, Mr McKie writes: “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.

“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 solicitors are also seeking protection from prosecution from the Crown Office before he gives evidence to the inquiry.

His lawyers state: “Furthermore, our client requests that the Committee assists in securing binding assurances from the crown that our client will be able to discharge his oath in front of your Committee without fear of sanction or prosecution.

“Given the Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Government, we cannot anticipate that he would object to such a course in light of the assurances given by the government for full co-operation and the importance of the subject matter of this inquiry.”

The letter also states that the former first minister is to make two further submissions to the inquiry and is critical of the inquiry’s continuation while “critical and material evidence” has not been recovered.

It criticises the inquiry for not having sought evidence from the Crown Office which, if disclosed by Mr Salmond, would “constitute a criminal offence”.

They state: “There appears to have been no proper attempt to recover that material from the Inquiry, or explanation as to why it has not been obtained.

"The Inquiry has had months to recover it and the government has had months to produce evidence which they undertook to produce in assurances given by the First Minister from the outset.”

The inquiry had planned for Ms Sturgeon to appear the week after Mr Salmond.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.