An independence activist who named women who gave evidence against Alex Salmond has been jailed for six months.
Clive Thomson, 52, breached a strict court order which prohibited the identification of the complainers who gave evidence at the former first minister’s trial last year.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard that Thomson, of Rosyth, Fife, named the women on Twitter on two different occasions last August.
Lady Dorrian – the judge who presided over the trial which resulted in Salmond being acquitted of all charges – passed the order during trial.
Accused thought he would be safe as he sent tweet while abroad
But the High Court in Edinburgh heard that although Thomson knew he wasn’t supposed to name the women, he did so anyway.
He believed he was safe from prosecution because he was on holiday abroad at the time of sending one of the tweets. The court also heard he sought advice from other Twitter users about how he could get around the court order.
Defence advocate Mark Stwart QC today urged judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Pentland and Lord Matthews not to send his client to prison.
He said Thomson cared for his wife who is currently shielding and was also the family’s main breadwinner, although has been suspended from his job at as a defence industry worker for Babcock as a result of the case.
No option but jail for ‘deliberate and planned’ breach
Mr Stewart said his client regretted his actions and now “fully understood” the significance of his behaviour.
He added: “I would respectfully move the court to accept that this was an act of extreme foolishness by someone who was acting in a way that was not calculated but was effectively an act of folly and bravado and I would ask the court to consider his remorse, his guilt and his immediate acknowledgment of his wrongdoing when considering its disposal.”
But Lady Dorrian said what Thomson did was so wrong that jail was the only option as it had been a “deliberate and indeed planned” breach of the law.
She said: “There are very good reasons why complainers in sexual offences cases are given anonymity.
“The protection is extended by convention to complainers in all cases – not just the one which we are concerned.
“It so happens that the protection in this case was backed up by a specific order by the court to underline the importance and you knew that this order had been made.
‘Calculated’ actions could prevent victims reporting crimes
“Nevertheless you deliberately took it into your own hands to flout that order and post the names of those involved, believing the second time that you were safe from proceedings from contempt of court by being abroad.
“You had given thought about how you were going to get away with it – you went as far as seek advice about that on Twitter.
“Clearly you decided to take a calculated risk. The reason for such protection extends beyond the complainers in the present case is that the risk of public knowledge for their identities can operate as a severe deterrent to others against making complaints to public authorities.”
Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault earlier this year. A further charge of sexual assault had previously been dropped by prosecutors.
The former first minister had maintained his innocence throughout the two-week long trial which was held in March 2020.
What is the Contempt of Court Act?
The Contempt of Court Act (Scotland) 1981 prohibits the publication of certain information which creates a substantial risk of prejudice in court proceedings.
A case is active as soon as an arrest is made, meaning journalists must adhere to the law. Information that could influence a trial may include an accused’s previous convictions or the fact they have been on remand since their arrest.
The law also prevents the identification of alleged sexual assault victims and witnesses under 18. It was recently extended to also protect accused persons under 18.
Publications must be careful to ensure the above can not be worked out through jigsaw identification.
In some cases, the court can make a specific order covering a further element of proceedings.
Obviously social media was not a factor when the law was written, but all publishers – from news titles to anyone publishing about active proceedings online – must be aware of the potential impact a breach could have on proceedings.
Punishment can include a fine or a maximum of two years in jail.