Alex Salmond inquiry: New Scottish Government legal files appear to debunk former First Minister’s conspiracy plot claim

Legal advice released by the Scottish Government on Thursday appears to debunk Alex Salmond’s claim about a plot to delay a civil case in the hope it would be overtaken by criminal proceedings he faced.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 8:04 pm

But the Scottish Conservatives said the four documents released on Thursday fall far short of what the Scottish Parliament and Salmond inquiry demanded, and called on the Scottish Government to “end the secrecy” and release all the advice.

The documents relate to the botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Mr Salmond.

A successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.

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Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial last year.

Giving evidence to a Holyrood inquiry into the government’s handling of complaints last Friday, Mr Salmond claimed the Scottish Government hoped a criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.

Explaining his belief that a looming criminal trial was the reason the government did not admit defeat in the case sooner, Mr Salmond said: “Conceding in October [2018] would be embarrassing, it would be difficult, but it wouldn’t be as cataclysmic as an open court case in January [2019].

“What other motivation could there possibly have been than the belief that something might happen and intervene which meant that the judicial review never came to court?”

Former First Minister Alex Salmond leaves Holyrood in Edinburgh after giving evidence to a Scottish Parliament Harassment committee.

He added: “If the criminal case had been advanced, then the civil case wouldn’t have gone ahead pending the outcome of the criminal case.

“Many people seemed to invest a great deal of hope that the criminal case would ride to the rescue, like the cavalry over the hill, and the civil case would never be heard.”

In a document dated September 4 2018, Roddy Dunlop QC and Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill, counsel for the Scottish Government, said they could see strength in the argument that the criminal investigation may “make the entire petition pointless”.

He wrote: “If there is a criminal conviction then surely this case will not proceed; and if there is a trial and an acquittal then the Ministers would be faced with a very different situation than that which presently obtains.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney released a first batch of legal advice on Tuesday under threat of a no-confidence vote and further documents were published on Thursday evening.

However Mr Swinney said the newly released documents make clear that delaying the case – known as sisting – was only considered as an option in order to minimise the impact of the case on the ongoing police investigation.

In a letter dated September 17 2018, the Lord Advocate said that the other option would be reporting restrictions and that this would be preferable.

He said: “I am satisfied that, if reporting restrictions are competent, these would adequately protect the public interest in any future criminal proceedings.

“On that basis, that would clearly be the preferable and appropriate route, since it would enable the issues raised by the petition to be addressed whilst protecting any future criminal process.”

The Scottish Conservatives have lodged votes of no confidence in Mr Swinney and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

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