Alex Salmond has agreed to appear before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him.
The former first minister pulled out of a scheduled evidence session on Wednesday after the Scottish Parliament belatedly redacted his written submission the day before he was due to appear, but he offered to attend on Friday instead.
Holyrood’s committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints duly agreed to invite Salmond to give evidence in person on Friday – an offer the former SNP leader has now accepted.
He is expected to give evidence on the botched investigation and face questions about his allegations that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.
In his written submission, Salmond named people he claims were involved in a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life, and described the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland – as “simply not fit for purpose”.
Sturgeon has insisted there is “not a shred of evidence” that there was a conspiracy against Salmond, and she has denied lying to parliament. She is scheduled to appear before the committee to give evidence next Wednesday.
The committee was set up to examine the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond.
He successfully challenged the lawfulness of the investigation at the Court of Session – Scotland’s highest civil court – and it was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” because the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints. He was subsequently awarded a £512,250 payout.
Salmond was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial.
He had been due to appear before the committee on Wednesday before the Crown Office wrote to the parliament and purportedly raised concerns about possible contempt of court linked to his written submission.
The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body agreed to remove Salmond’s written submission on Tuesday and replace it with a redacted version with five sections censored – prompting his lawyers to warn there was a “material risk” if he appeared to give oral evidence as planned on Wednesday.
Salmond’s lawyer David 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.”
Mr McKie described the decision to subsequently redact evidence as a “significant surprise and concern”, and said: “We therefore require to see urgently the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations.”
On Tuesday evening, Salmond’s legal team said it was “clearly impossible” for him to give evidence under oath the next day given the circumstances.
As well as inviting him to appear on Friday during a meeting of the committee on Wednesday, the MSPs voted in favour of approaching the High Court “as a matter of urgency” for specific guidance on how Lady Dorrian’s anonymity order from Mr Salmond’s criminal trial applies to the publication of his written evidence to the inquiry.
It also voted to recall Lord Advocate James Wolffe to face more questions, as well as agreeing to order the Crown Office to release further documents to the committee.
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “There was unanimous agreement in the committee that it wants to hear from Alex Salmond.
“His evidence has always been an important part of the committee’s work and as such the committee agreed that it would invite Mr Salmond to give evidence in person on Friday.
“The First Minister will then give evidence as the final witness to the inquiry on Wednesday.
“The committee remains determined to complete its task set by the parliament and today agreed further actions in order to help them complete this work.”