A FULL-blown public inquiry should be held into the trams project to prevent key witnesses abusing anonymity rights at the upcoming judge-led probe, it was claimed today.
The calls come after it was revealed by the Evening News that Lord Hardie was considering granting anonymity to some witnesses, redacting their names from written statements and discussing arrangements for them to deliver oral evidence without being named publicly.
Former council staff have been released from any “gagging” clauses in their contracts, with councillors voting to waive any restrictions preventing former employees from speaking in an effort to ensure the inquiry can get to the truth.
However, Conservative councillor Cameron Rose said he had “concerns about a lot of this being anonymous” and said the inquiry should have the power to force people to appear before it.
He said: “We’ve pushed heavily to get people who have left the council’s employment under a gagging agreement to have them released from that so that they can contribute. There are a few people here and there who have left the council under such an agreement.
“I do have some concern about a lot of this being anonymous, because there has to be a good balance between getting real evidence and people settling scores. That will be a test of how well Lord Hardie runs the inquiry.
“There is a danger of giving anonymous evidence, and that evidence needs to be tested.
“There may be some people who do not want to give evidence, who may be seen as culpable.
“I would hope that Lord Hardie and the Scottish Government, if that appears to be a blockage to the inquiry getting to the real source, would consider converting to a judicial inquiry.”
Opponents of the tram system have expressed anger and alarm that anonymity for witnesses appeared to be on the table.
Leith Business Association chairman Alex Wilson said: “I think it’s a bad idea for testimony to be submitted anonymously, because all sorts of people can hide behind that, and deny they ever said what they said. We need to draw people into account, and they can’t say they are Teflon clean.”
And Edinburgh solicitor Daniel Donaldson, who set up a petition calling for a public inquiry into the tram system ahead of its launch in May, said anonymity was unacceptable
He said: “It is well documented now that the public have a desire for transparency. The cloak and dagger approach, thus far adopted, will not inspire public confidence.”
A non-statutory judicial inquiry is led by a judge, and can collect evidence from witnesses under oath, ensuring that testimony is truthful. However, it cannot force witnesses to appear, unlike a full public inquiry.
A non-statutory inquiry can be “upgraded” to a full public inquiry even after it has begun at the request of ministers and with the agreement of the inquiry chairman.
Setting up the inquiry, the Scottish Government said that it has chosen a non-statutory format so that work could get under way faster.