Sturgeon: Crown Office influence claims ‘downright wrong’

Lord Advocate called to Parliament to answer urgent question about Crown's role in Alex Salmond's published evidence.

Sturgeon: Crown Office influence claims ‘downright wrong’ Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning in 2015.

Nicola Sturgeon has attacked Alex Salmond for not turning up at a Scottish Parliament committee examining the Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.

Salmond was due to be questioned on Wednesday over his claims that the First Minister misled parliament and of a conspiracy to have him jailed.

He will now give evidence on Friday on his own claims that Sturgeon misled Parliament and broke the ministerial code.

The former first minister asked to delay his appearance after his already-published written evidence was belatedly redacted by Parliament on Tuesday following an intervention by the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crime in Scotland.

Salmond said the Crown Office’s decision to write to Parliament – purportedly seeking redactions over contempt of court fears – was “astonishing” and asked his lawyers to seek answers about the “unprecedented and highly irregular actions”.

Asked about the saga at the daily coronavirus briefing, Sturgeon said: “Any suggestion at all that these decisions are in any way politically influenced are downright wrong.

“I would suggest that they go further than that; that they actually start to buy into what is a false and quite dangerous conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.

“Creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state – not just me and the SNP and the civil service and the Crown Office and the police and women who came forward – were all part of some wild conspiracy against him for reasons I can’t explain, maybe that’s easier than just accepting that at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour.

“But that’s for him to explain if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee.”

Sturgeon also repeated her assertion that there is not “a shred of evidence” to support her former mentor’s claim there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life involving claims of sexual harassment while he was first minister.

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.

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 spokesman for Salmond said his lawyers will ask the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish Government – to explain the legal basis for the Crown’s intervention, questions over whether the legal position about the evidence has changed and why, and whether there were any representations made to the Crown Office.

Mr Wolffe was called to Parliament on Wednesday to answer an urgent question about the Crown Office intervention that caused published evidence from the former first minister to be taken down and heavily redacted.

He insisted there was no political pressure on the decision.

In response to a question about whether he was consulted about the letter from the Crown Office, Mr Wolffe said: “No, I was not.

“The decisions in relation to this matter were made by senior professional prosecutors acting independently as they always do, and without reference to the law officers.”

He added: “Scotland’s public prosecutors take difficult decisions which some may find unpopular.

“They take those decisions objectively, professionally and in the public interest, and they act independently of any other person.”

Meanwhile, Salmond’s legal team said it was “clearly impossible” for him to give evidence under oath on Wednesday in the circumstances and offered to postpone his appearance until Friday.

A meeting of the cross-party committee agreed it still wants to hear evidence from Salmond.

The committee then voted to recall Mr Wolffe to face more questions as well as agreeing to order the Crown Office to release further documents to the committee.

Sturgeon will then make her appearance on Wednesday.

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.”