Alex Salmond pulls out of Holyrood appearance after evidence redacted

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Alex Salmond will not appear before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him after parliament redacted his already-published evidence.

Scotland’s former first minister had been expected to give evidence on Wednesday about the botched investigation and face questions about his claims that Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.

But a Scottish Parliament spokesman announced on Tuesday evening that he would not be attending.

He said: “Mr Salmond has informed the Committee that he will not be attending tomorrow’s meeting to give evidence.

His lawyers wrote to the MSPs saying their client was available to appear instead on Friday.

Their letter said: “It is now clearly impossible for him to attend tomorrow in these circumstances, but he remains willing to attend on Friday.

“He accepts that is entirely in the hands of the Committee to whom he has asked that we copy this correspondence.”

The Government’s investigation of the allegations was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

Mr Salmond, who was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial, was awarded a £512,250 payout after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the government investigation.

A parliamentary inquiry, the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, was established to look into the Government’s actions.

Ms Sturgeon, the current First Minister, is still due to give evidence next week.

Mr Salmond had been scheduled to appear before the committee at 12.30pm on Wednesday.

His lawyers warned there was “no legal basis” for parliament’s decision to redact his earlier evidence.

In his written submission, Mr Salmond named people he claims were involved in a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life, including Ms Sturgeon’s husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, and her chief of staff Liz Lloyd.

But after the evidence was published and in the public domain, the Crown Office wrote to the parliament and purportedly raised concerns about possible contempt of court.

The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB) agreed to remove the submission and replace it with a redacted version with five sections censored.

Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie, subsequently demanded to see any legal justification for the parliament redacting swathes of his submission and warned there could be a “material risk” if he appeared to give oral evidence as planned.

Mr McKie wrote: “Our client’s submission was carefully reviewed by us and by counsel before submission.

“There is no legal basis for the redactions that we are aware of which you now propose having gone through that extremely careful exercise.”

Alex Salmond court case
Alex Salmond leaves the High Court in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

“These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow.

“As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission.

“He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy.”

After the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) “collectively” decided to remove and redact the evidence, a Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office.

“We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”

Mr Salmond had previously declined to attend after the committee voted to not publish evidence Mr Salmond had submitted.

However, the SPCB ultimately concluded “on balance” it would be “possible” for the document to be published, apparently clearing the way for Mr Salmond’s anticipated appearance.

First Minister’s Questions
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no evidence to support Alex Salmond’s claims (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

She said: “What we have not seen is a shred of evidence to back these wild claims up.

“Now, in front of the Parliament, the burden of proof is on Alex Salmond.

“It is time for insinuation and assertion to be replaced with actual evidence.

“If, as I fully expect, there is no evidence, because there was no conspiracy, then people will draw their own conclusions.”

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