SNP Vic­tory may em­bolden for­mer first min­is­ter to take aim at party

The Guardian - - National Alex Salmond Trial - Sev­erin Car­rell Libby Brooks ▲

Over nearly nine days of of­ten con­tra­dic­tory and emo­tion­ally charged ev­i­dence, the ju­rors in Alex Sal­mond’s trial on 14 charges of sex­ual as­sault heard two con­flict­ing ac­counts about the for­mer first min­is­ter.

One ver­sion was of an of­ten bad tem­pered boss who drove his staff hard, with poor judg­ment about per­sonal space. His de­fence ad­vo­cate, Gor­don Jackson QC, told the jury of nine women and six men Sal­mond was flawed, but not evil; he was cer­tainly not a man guilty of crim­i­nal­ity or an at­tempt to rape.

“This comes out of a po­lit­i­cal bub­ble with no real in­de­pen­dent sup­port of any kind,” Jackson said. Many of the charges smelled, he added, of po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion. “This is a murky, murky world we live in.” Sal­mond in­sisted some charges were “a fab­ri­ca­tion from start to fin­ish”.

The pros­e­cu­tion por­trayed Sal­mond as a preda­tor who abused his power and au­thor­ity to as­sault younger women, of­ten at night in the seclu­sion of his of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Ed­in­burgh’s Ge­or­gian new town, Bute House.

“This [case] is about a pow­er­ful man who abused his power to sat­isfy his sex­ual de­sires with im­punity,” Alex Pren­tice QC told the jury.

In the event, the jury – re­duced to 13 af­ter two mem­bers were dis­charged, ac­cepted Jackson’s ac­count. They ac­quit­ted Sal­mond of ev­ery charge on ma­jor­ity ver­dicts. He had al­ready been ac­quit­ted of a 10th sex­ual as­sault af­ter the pros­e­cu­tion with­drew the charge.

Speak­ing out­side court yes­ter­day, Sal­mond is­sued a thinly con­cealed warn­ing to his for­mer party and Ni­cola Stur­geon, his suc­ces­sor as first min­is­ter and Scot­tish Na­tional party leader, that he planned to dis­close more ev­i­dence in com­ing days and weeks.

“There was cer­tain ev­i­dence I would like to have seen led in this trial but for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons we weren’t able to do so,” he told the me­dia. “At some point that in­for­ma­tion, that fact and that ev­i­dence will see the light of day.”

Sal­mond’s ju­bi­lant al­lies now be­lieve a forth­com­ing Scot­tish par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s botched han­dling of an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into two com­plaints against him by civil ser­vants will dig deeper into the role played by Stur­geon’s staff and se­nior of­fi­cials in that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the sub­se­quent po­lice in­quiry.

He has now been ex­on­er­ated by the jury of any crimes – but the par­lia­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion could also be sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded, af­ter the trial heard how com­plaints from sev­eral civil ser­vants who

raised con­cerns about Sal­mond’s be­hav­iour were dealt with by se­nior of­fi­cials.

The court heard that of­fi­cials in Sal­mond’s of­fice de­cided in 2013 and 2014 not to record or in­ves­ti­gate their com­plaints about his be­hav­iour to­wards them. The women in­volved told the jury they felt hu­mil­i­ated and em­bar­rassed, and feared that mak­ing for­mal com­plaints would dam­age their ca­reers. They opted in­stead to do so off the record.

Af­ter a young ju­nior of­fi­cial ac­cused Sal­mond of forc­ing her on to a bed in De­cem­ber 2013 – a charge Sal­mond de­nied – se­nior civil ser­vants in his pri­vate of­fice de­cided among them­selves not to al­low fe­male of­fi­cials to work alone at night with him at Bute House, ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence.

That com­plainer, known as F be­cause his ac­cusers can­not be named for le­gal rea­sons, claimed at Sal­mond’s trial that he pinned her on a bed and forced his hands up her skirt. She said she did not re­port the full de­tails of her al­le­ga­tions to her col­leagues. Even so, the jury heard that one col­league in Sal­mond’s of­fice told her the next day: “It could be a crime”.

In­stead of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the jury heard that the of­fi­cials

and Sal­mond’s most se­nior aide bro­kered an apol­ogy from Sal­mond. Those of­fi­cials told the court they felt F wanted the is­sue kept low key, so were re­spect­ing her wishes. Sal­mond told the jury in fact he and F had fallen onto the bed in a “sleepy cud­dle” af­ter drink­ing a po­tent Chi­nese spirit while they worked. The jury ac­quit­ted him of al­leged sex­ual as­sault with in­tent to rape.

Af­ter a fur­ther al­le­ga­tion about an in­ci­dent at Bute House four months later, the same of­fi­cials told the court they tried to re­in­force the prac­tice of not al­low­ing fe­male of­fi­cials to work alone with Sal­mond at the res­i­dence. In that case, the court was told, an­other civil ser­vant re­ceived a dis­tressed late night text from a younger fe­male col­league, G. She al­leged in court that Sal­mond cor­nered her in his pri­vate sitting room and tried to kiss her af­ter press­ing her to drink Limon­cello with him, which she re­fused.

G said ini­tially she felt “it was never an op­tion” to re­port the in­ci­dent in­ter­nally or to the po­lice. “I felt a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect his rep­u­ta­tion. [I] thought if I got into some sort of scan­dal with him it would lose the [in­de­pen­dence] ref­er­en­dum,” she told the jury.

The court heard a col­league per­suaded G to com­plain in­for­mally but she re­mained deeply doubt­ful the process would work. She told the court that she had doubts about the com­pe­tence of the civil ser­vice and feared, cor­rectly, that Sal­mond would sue the gov­ern­ment.

The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment re­peat­edly told jour­nal­ists in 2017, 2018 and 2019 that no com­plaints of sex­ual mis­con­duct or bul­ly­ing had been made against Sal­mond un­til two of th­ese com­plain­ers

– the le­gal term in Scot­land for com­plainants – came for­ward in late 2017, af­ter the #MeToo move­ment pushed min­is­ters into an­nounc­ing a zero-tol­er­ance stance on sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Ac­cord­ing to their testimony in court, none of the women were told their al­le­ga­tions could have been in­ves­ti­gated un­der the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s then uniquely far-reach­ing “fair­ness at work” pro­ce­dures, which it in­tro­duced in au­tumn 2010.

That pol­icy – the only one of its kind in the UK – specif­i­cally in­cluded mis­con­duct by Scot­tish min­is­ters, in­clud­ing first min­is­ters. It com­mit­ted the gov­ern­ment “to deal­ing with staff griev­ances fairly, con­sis­tently [and] quickly”, with no one “pe­nalised for rais­ing a com­plaint in good faith”.

Ap­pen­dix 1 of the doc­u­ment set out “ex­am­ples of un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour”, which in­cluded “in­ap­pro­pri­ate phys­i­cal con­tact, ad­vances or propo­si­tions” and “in­ap­pro­pri­ate questions about some­one’s per­sonal life or questions about some­one’s sex life”.

That pol­icy was orig­i­nally drawn up to han­dle bul­ly­ing or mis­treat­ment com­plaints against civil ser­vants but civil ser­vice unions in­sisted it was ex­panded to in­clude min­is­ters be­cause of al­leged bul­ly­ing in­ci­dents in­volv­ing Sal­mond him­self.

Union sources ac­knowl­edge the pol­icy was not writ­ten with sex­ual mis­con­duct specif­i­cally in mind, but said it was clear the pol­icy cov­ered mis­con­duct in its broad­est sense.

Sal­mond told the jury he had signed off on the pol­icy. It was also agreed by Ni­cola Stur­geon, then the deputy first min­is­ter, and Sir John Elvidge, the then per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment. Stur­geon agreed to be the ar­biter of any com­plaints in­volv­ing min­is­ters, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions against Sal­mond.

De­spite the fair­ness at work pol­icy be­ing in place at the time, one fe­male civil ser­vant, com­plainer B, told the jury she felt un­able to com­plain af­ter she claimed that he tried to force her into a kiss.

“I think I would’ve suf­fered in my ca­reer as a re­sult. I never saw any­body in a se­nior po­si­tion in the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment tackle the first min­is­ter about his be­hav­iour,” she said.

Sal­mond was found not guilty of that al­le­ga­tion. A se­nior mem­ber of Sal­mond’s pol­icy team at the time, Alex Bell, told the court last week he had been sent up­stairs by two other col­leagues to en­sure she was safe, be­cause they had in­ad­ver­tently left her alone with Sal­mond.

Asked why he had gone up, Bell said: “To en­sure that the wel­fare of my col­league was OK.” Their stance mir­rored the poli­cies fol­lowed three years later by Sal­mond’s pri­vate sec­re­taries.

It took un­til late 2017 be­fore th­ese women felt con­fi­dent to re­port th­ese al­le­ga­tions, when Stur­geon and Scot­land’s head civil ser­vant, Les­lie Evans, re­acted to the #MeToo move­ment by in­tro­duc­ing a tougher code of con­duct that specif­i­cally in­cluded sex­ual mis­con­duct. Cru­cially, it ap­plied ret­ro­spec­tively to for­mer min­is­ters.

Two of the women who had felt un­able to pur­sue com­plaints ini­tially stepped for­wards, trig­ger­ing an in­ter­nal Scot­tish gov­ern­ment in­quiry that up­held their com­plaints. That led the po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate, and re­sulted in Sal­mond be­ing charged with 14 counts of sex­ual as­sault - and ul­ti­mately ac­quit­ted.

‘This comes out of a po­lit­i­cal bub­ble with no real in­de­pen­dent sup­port … This is a murky, murky world’

Gor­don Jackson QC Alex Sal­mond’s de­fence lawyer

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID CHESKIN/PA

Alex Sal­mond cel­e­brates with Ni­cola Stur­geon af­ter his win in the Scot­tish Na­tional party lead­er­ship con­test in 2004

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