Scotland’s prosecutors have been urged to hand over material obtained in the run-up to Alex Salmond’s criminal trial to MSPs investigating the handling of harassment claims made against the former politician.
Holyrood’s Salmond inquiry committee has written to Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC asking for material that may be relevant to its investigation into the Scottish Government’s failed civil court battle with the ex-first minister.
The letter raises the prospect of previously unseen documents as well as emails and phone messages being published should the Crown Office agree to the request.
Committee convener Linda Fabiani wrote to Mr Wolffe after a controversial text from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans was successfully retrieved from the Crown Office for consideration by the inquiry.
The committee is seeking material that the Crown may hold which falls within the committee’s remit, specifically any information, for example communications between officials, related to the conduct of the judicial review and the Scottish Government’s decision to concede; as well as information concerning the handling of the harassment complaints considered under the Scottish Government procedure as opposed to the merits of any such complaints.”
Linda Fabiani, committee convener
Last month the material provided by the Crown showed Barbara Allison, the Scottish Government’s communications director, had received Ms Evan’s message on January 8 2019, the day that Mr Salmond won his judicial review – an outcome which cost the taxpayer more than £500,000.
Ms Evans’s text read: “Thanks Barbara – battle maybe lost but not the war. Hope you are having a lovely & well deserved break.”
The text has been interpreted by Mr Salmond’s supporters as evidence of a conspiracy against the former first minister – a suggestion that has been denied by Ms Evans.
Civil servant’s ‘unintended inaccuracy’
When Ms Allison first appeared under oath in front of the Salmond inquiry, in September, she answered “no” when asked she was asked by Labour’s Jackie Baillie if she had received the text.
But minutes before Ms Allison appeared for a second time in front of the inquiry, last month, the Scottish Parliament published a letter from Ms Allison that revealed she had, in fact, received the message.
On October 27, Ms Allison wrote to say she wanted to “correct the unintended inaccuracy in my previous statement”.
She said she had answered Ms Baillie to the “best of my recollection” at the time, but had since contacted the Crown Office, asking for a copy of material retrieved from her mobile phone in connection with Mr Salmond’s criminal trial.
Mr Salmond was cleared of all sexual offence charges earlier this year.
When he was cleared of criminal charges, Mr Salmond said there was evidence that was not led in his trial that he would like to be made public in the fullness of time.
Since then, however, Mr Salmond’s lawyer has been warned by the Crown Office that to disclose documents relating to the criminal trial would be illegal.
But in her letter, Ms Fabiani suggested the example of Ms Allison retrieving Ms Evans’s text message demonstrated “there may be material held by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service which is relevant to the Committee’s remit”.
Ms Fabiani said: “The criminal trial has concluded, and the committee is not seeking information in relation to the Crown’s decision to prosecute, the ‘merits’ of the allegations or the conduct of the trial.
“However, the committee is seeking material that the Crown may hold which falls within the committee’s remit, specifically any information, for example communications between officials, related to the conduct of the judicial review and the Scottish Government’s decision to concede; as well as information concerning the handling of the harassment complaints considered under the Scottish Government procedure as opposed to the merits of any such complaints.”
Ms Fabiani added: “The Committee wishes to obtain the relevant information and evidence necessary to fulfil its remit in a timely manner and therefore requests provision of all such information held by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”
Peter Murrell and WhatsApp
In September it was revealed Police Scotland is investigating the leak of WhatsApp messages relating to Mr Salmond’s trial.
The Crown Office instructed officers to investigate how messages appearing to show Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, backing police action against Mr Salmond were made public.
The electronic messages came to light when they were passed to SNP MP Kenny MacAskill from an anonymous source. Mr MacAskill has given them to the Holyrood Committee as well as the Crown Office.
One line of inquiry will be whether these messages were part of a dossier passed on to Mr Salmond’s legal team by the Crown as part of the disclosure process in his criminal trial. Scots law states an accused person and his legal representatives are allowed only to use the disclosed information for the purposes of conducting the criminal proceedings.
Ms Fabiani has asked the Lord Advocate to reply by noon on Monday.
The Crown Office has been approached for comment.