Alex Salmond inquiry's credibility has been undermined and Crown Office's independence trashed – John McLellan

A Scottish Parliament committee is investigating the Scottish government's botched handling of complaints made about Alex Salmond (Picture: Scott Heppell/AP)A Scottish Parliament committee is investigating the Scottish government's botched handling of complaints made about Alex Salmond (Picture: Scott Heppell/AP)
A Scottish Parliament committee is investigating the Scottish government's botched handling of complaints made about Alex Salmond (Picture: Scott Heppell/AP)
This morning we should be dissecting the evidence given by former First Minister Alex Salmond to the MSPs probing the Scottish government’s investigation into his conduct, but as we all know now yesterday’s appearance was derailed by the Crown Office’s intervention.

It doesn’t matter whether you think conspiracy or cock-up was at the heart of the botched inquiry into complaints of sexual harassment; all you need to know is the Scottish government was warned it would fail but pressed on, and one of Scotland’s most senior judges duly found the procedures were biased and the whole thing cost a minimum of £500,000.

In trying to explain the circumstances, his successor Nicola Sturgeon is alleged to have misled parliament, a resigning offence.

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You don’t need to be a Salmond fan to accept this needs examining, or that having been subjected to a biased government investigation which leads to criminal charges, and a trial in which he is cleared on all counts, he’s entitled to put his side of the story and for that story to be tested. Neither do you need to believe the women lied.

Nor do you need to be a member of Team Sturgeon to understand that, when it comes to allegations of sexual assault, the identity of complainants must be protected or few will come forward.

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But you don’t need to be a legal expert to understand the problem if the Crown Office is seen to interfere with evidence being presented to an investigation into the actions of the government in which its head, Lord Advocate James Wolffe, is a prominent member.

Yet this is where Holyrood finds itself. Cleared to do so by the original trial judge, the Parliamentary Corporate Body approved publication of Mr Salmond’s account of how he believes Ms Sturgeon misled parliament but, after the evidence was released, the Crown Office pressurised the PCB into deleting passages which limited the questions the investigating committee could ask, even though the full version is easily available online.

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What then would be the point of an investigation which can’t question key witnesses about crucial allegations which are already widely publicised? What point indeed, but there still seems to be enough in the published evidence to allow questions about the crucial issue of whether Ms Sturgeon misled Parliament and let the committee probe the key issues it was established to investigate.

Mr Salmond’s solicitor David McKie knows a thing or two about contempt of court and he is adamant the evidence was thoroughly revised to ensure it would not breach the order preventing identification of any complainant, but it was only fair that time be taken to fully understand the implications of the Crown Office intervention.

But there is still the matter of the unreleased documents which Mr Salmond says show he was the victim of an orchestrated campaign. Ms Sturgeon says he has not produced “a shred of evidence” but it’s legitimate to ask if that’s because her government is making sure the proof never sees the light of day.

Maybe Mr Salmond will appear tomorrow. Maybe there’s a narrow legal path which justified Crown Office intervention, but as it stands the PCB has been humiliated, the inquiry’s credibility further undermined, the Crown Office’s independence trashed, and the reputation of the whole institution badly damaged.

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