Salmond inquiry: Scottish Government accused of leaking confidential letter

Lawyers for Alex Salmond have accused the Scottish Government of leaking a “private and confidential” letter relating to the Holyrood inquiry into how sexual harassment allegations against the former First Minister were investigated by civil servants.

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government over its handling of an inquiry into claims of sexual harassment made against him.

David McKie, of Levy & McRae Solicitors, has written to MSPs alerting them to a letter he has sent to the Scottish Government seeking an investigation into the “data breach” which he said had “serious implications for the proper functioning” of the parliamentary committee.

He alleges that a letter sent from his office to the government in August, regarding the release of court papers from the judicial review which Mr Salmond won to the Holyrood Committee, had been leaked to the Daily Record.

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The newspaper reported that Mr Salmond had “blocked the release of government papers to the Holyrood inquiry into how complaints against him were handled” and that he was the unnamed individual “referred to by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney” in a letter to the Committee.

Mr McKie said that the breach of confidentiality was also “selective and deliberately misleading.”

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In his letter to the Scottish Government, and forwarded to the Committee, he wrote: “The information in the article can only have come from the Scottish Government. It was information sent only to the Scottish Government in a letter marked ‘private and confidential.

"The data breach is a clear contravention of the law. We are appalled that correspondence with the Scottish Government on matters as sensitive as those

involved in this case cannot be sent with any confidence that they will be treated appropriately and in good faith.

"Furthermore, the breach appears to have been selective and deliberately misleading. It has resulted in a highly defamatory and misleading article being published about our client. That, doubtless, was the intention.

“We therefore ask you undertake an immediate investigation and to identify all parties who received a copy of our letter. That will assist in identifying the source of the data breach. Please confirm that you will report this clear data breach to the ICO [Information Commissioner Office] immediately. If not, please set out the basis for your refusal to do so.”

He added: “Further, we would note that the terms in which Mr Swinney wrote to the Committee citing an objection by “an individual” as the reason for delay in your submission to the Committee was also prejudicial to our client.”

Mr McKie told MSPs he was alerting them to his letter “given its serious implications for the proper functioning of your Committee.”

He added: “Some material which the government had indicated to us it intended to produce, as part of its submissions, in our view represented a clear breach of court orders and undertakings. It would consequently have constituted a clear contempt of court.

"We informed the Scottish Government last month that we would return to court on behalf of our client if they attempted to breach court rulings or undertakings. The Committee has made it clear repeatedly that court rulings must be adhered to and that it was not seeking either material naming complainants in breach of a High Court order nor documents previously reduced by the Court of Session, since they were part of an unlawful process and subject to court undertakings.

“However the Daily Record article suggests that our client was objecting to papers the Committee had asked for. He was not. That correspondence with the government can be made available to the Committee on a confidential basis if required.

"Our client’s position is clear: he seeks to facilitate the maximum lawful disclosure of documents whilst respecting and, if necessary, enforcing the orders of the court.”

Mr McKie has already given oral evidence to the Committee investigating the government’s bungled inquiry into the allegations against Mr Salmond, and said he would be willing to return to court to have documents released if the Scottish Government failed to provide them.

He said the government “was risking contempt of court by offering documents the Committee has not asked for while simultaneously refusing to provide the Committee with material it has asked for, and can lawfully provide, such as the external legal advice on the Judicial Review.”

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.

Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “If it is true that the Scottish Government leaked sensitive information to the Daily Record newspaper then there are serious questions for senior members of the government to answer.

“By practicing evasion and now leaking, the Scottish Government is neither covering itself in glory nor acting as a government should.

“It seems that the Scottish Government’s default mode of operation is cloak and dagger. This is not acceptable and must end.”

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