‘Fu­ri­ous’ Sal­mond likely to sue Scot­tish gov­ern­ment, say al­lies

The Guardian - - National - Sev­erin Car­rell Libby Brooks

Alex Sal­mond is ex­pected to sue the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment over the al­leged role of its se­nior of­fi­cials in his pros­e­cu­tion for sex­ual as­saults, his al­lies have dis­closed.

Sources close to the for­mer first min­is­ter said he be­lieved se­nior fig­ures in­side the gov­ern­ment and Ni­cola Stur­geon’s of­fice helped or­ches­trate sig­nif­i­cant parts of the case against him, and that he in­tends to sue for ex­ten­sive dam­ages.

Sal­mond is said to be par­tic­u­larly fu­ri­ous that de­tails of an in­ter­nal Scot­tish gov­ern­ment in­quiry into sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions were leaked to the Daily Record in Au­gust 2018, and to be­lieve that a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial is to blame.

Sal­mond was ac­quit­ted on Mon­day of all 14 as­sault charges, in­clud­ing one of at­tempted rape and an­other of in­tent to rape, by ma­jor­ity ver­dicts, fol­low­ing an 11-day trial at the high court in Ed­in­burgh.

He was for­mally ac­quit­ted of one sex­ual as­sault charge mid­way through the trial af­ter it was with­drawn by the pros­e­cu­tion. The jury later found him not guilty of 12 of the charges and said one was not proven, a ver­dict that also ac­quits the ac­cused.

“It’s pretty clear he in­tends to sue the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment for dam­ages,” said one ally. “He be­lieves this came from the top.” His al­lies also be­lieve prom­i­nent of­fi­cials in Stur­geon’s of­fice and the Scot­tish Na­tional party should be fired af­ter text mes­sages and emails came to light which Sal­mond ar­gues raises se­ri­ous questions about their role in the case, and their han­dling of al­le­ga­tions against him.

One close friend of Sal­mond said the for­mer SNP leader was also keen to give ev­i­dence to a Holy­rood in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a botched Scot­tish gov­ern­ment in­ter­nal in­quiry into com­plaints of mis­con­duct brought against him by two civil ser­vants in 2018.

The spe­cial com­mit­tee of in­quiry at Holy­rood was set up af­ter Les­lie Evans, the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, ad­mit­ted in Jan­uary 2019 the in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion had the ap­pear­ance of bias be­cause the of­fi­cial in charge of it had prior con­tact with the com­plainants.

The al­leged as­saults against the two civil ser­vants were in­ves­ti­gated by Po­lice Scot­land de­tec­tives and in­cluded in the charges lev­elled against Sal­mond dur­ing his trial. He was ac­quit­ted by the jury of both of those sex­ual as­saults.

Sal­mond won his ju­di­cial re­view in Jan­uary 2019, and in Au­gust 2019 the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment paid out £512,000 to cover the le­gal fees he had in­curred.

The spe­cially con­vened Holy­rood com­mit­tee, with in­cludes three for­mer SNP min­is­ters, is due to start hear­ing wit­nesses af­ter the coro­n­avirus cri­sis has sub­sided later this year.

In the in­terim, the com­mit­tee has asked to be given copies of non­con­fi­den­tial ev­i­dence used dur­ing the trial so MSPs can study the back­ground pa­pers dur­ing the lock­down pe­riod and spring re­cess next month.

Be­fore the trial, Sal­mond’s lawyer, Gor­don Jackson QC, pre­sented in closed court de­tails of text mes­sages between se­nior fig­ures in the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment and SNP, which Sal­mond ar­gues proves there was or­ches­tra­tion.

Joanna Cherry QC, an SNP MP who is one of Sal­mond’s clos­est al­lies, said on Mon­day: “Some of the ev­i­dence which has come to light raises very se­ri­ous questions over the process that was em­ployed within the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the al­leged com­plaints.”

Stur­geon told re­porters on Mon­day she was ready to give ev­i­dence, af­ter the coro­n­avirus cri­sis was over.

“The court has given a ver­dict, a de­ci­sion, and that must be re­spected,” she said.

“I have no doubt there will be fur­ther dis­cus­sion around this is­sue in due course, and I will wel­come that, but that time is not now. This coun­try faces a cri­sis right now, big­ger than we’ve ever faced be­fore.”

A close ally of Stur­geon dis­missed claims by Sal­mond’s sup­port­ers that the first min­is­ter would be forced to re­sign over the con­tro­versy. He said there were few MPs or MSPs who would be­lieve that was jus­ti­fied.

‘I have no doubt there will be fur­ther dis­cus­sion around this is­sue … but that time is not now’

Ni­cola Stur­geon First min­is­ter of Scot­land

No 10 is fac­ing crit­i­cism af­ter a day of widespread con­fu­sion over its coro­n­avirus lock­down ad­vice, with a lack of clar­ity about who is al­lowed to travel to work, whether cou­ples who live apart can still see each other and what counts as ex­er­cise.

Min­is­ters had to give fur­ther guid­ance on a range of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios af­ter peo­ple ex­pressed wor­ries about what they were al­lowed to do and who they could still see.

The big­gest con­fu­sion oc­curred over work­ers still trav­el­ling in packed tube trains to non-es­sen­tial jobs, such as con­struc­tion, with em­ploy­ees com­plain­ing they were be­ing forced to work de­spite feel­ing un­safe.

Ni­cola Stur­geon, the first min­is­ter of Scot­land, and Sadiq Khan, the Lon­don mayor, said con­struc­tion work­ers should not be at­tend­ing their work­places. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment over­ruled them, say­ing em­ploy­ers could still re­quire staff to at­tend their jobs in per­son – even though the over­ar­ch­ing guid­ance is for peo­ple to “stay at home where pos­si­ble”.

Other ar­eas of con­fu­sion in­cluded:

• Ad­vice over whether chil­dren of sep­a­rated par­ents could still visit both house­holds. Michael Gove, the Cab­i­net Of­fice min­is­ter, ini­tially said they could not, but quickly re­versed his po­si­tion to make clear that they could con­tinue to live across two homes.

• Whether trades­peo­ple such as plumbers and elec­tri­cians could still en­ter peo­ple’s homes. Gove said it was rea­son­able for them to at­tend emer­gen­cies.

• What types of ex­er­cise were per­mit­ted. Gove said peo­ple would be al­lowed to run, walk or go to an al­lot­ment, but not to do more so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, such as play­ing golf.

De­spite Boris John­son or­der­ing the na­tion to stay at home on Mon­day night, im­ages emerged for the sec­ond day run­ning of trav­ellers cram­ming on to Lon­don un­der­ground ser­vices dur­ing yes­ter­day morn­ing’s rush hour.

The pic­tures prompted con­cern that the re­duced train ser­vices, be­cause up to 30% of trans­port staff were off sick, had made it im­pos­si­ble for com­muters to main­tain so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

In a clash between No 10 and City Hall, Khan ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of re­fus­ing to take dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, while Matt Han­cock, the health sec­re­tary, ar­gued the tube should be run­ning in full to pre­vent over­crowd­ing.

The health sec­re­tary used No 10’s

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing

and Lisa O’Car­roll

Nazia Parveen

daily press con­fer­ence to crit­i­cise the Lon­don mayor – who is chair of Trans­port for Lon­don (TfL) – by say­ing more trains should be laid on for pas­sen­gers.

Han­cock said: “When it comes to the tube, the first and the best an­swer is that Trans­port for Lon­don should have the tube run­ning in full so that peo­ple trav­el­ling on the tube are spaced out and can be fur­ther apart – obey­ing the two-me­tre rule wher­ever pos­si­ble.”

A spokesman for Khan said: “The mayor has told min­is­ters count­less times over re­cent days that TfL sim­ply can­not safely run a full ser­vice be­cause of the lev­els of staff sick­ness and self­iso­la­tion. Nearly a third of staff are al­ready ab­sent – there aren’t enough driv­ers and con­trol staff to do it.

“The gov­ern­ment must act ur­gently to get more peo­ple stay­ing at home rather than go­ing to work un­nec­es­sar­ily – that means tak­ing the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions they are re­fus­ing to take to ban non-es­sen­tial con­struc­tion work and pro­vide proper fi­nan­cial sup­port to free­lancers, the self-em­ployed and those on zero-hours con­tracts to stay at home.”

The Bri­tish Trans­port Po­lice said on Mon­day that its of­fi­cers would be “on hand to sup­port rail op­er­a­tors if peo­ple are clearly dis­re­gard­ing the ad­vice”. New po­lice pow­ers to en­force the lock­down, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to im­pose on-the-spot fines, are ex­pected to come into force to­mor­row. The force said they would pro­vide a “high­vis­i­bil­ity pres­ence” and ad­vice.

– of which there are nor­mally nearly 5m a day – were down 85% on Mon­day and yes­ter­day, ac­cord­ing to TfL. Trans­port for Greater Manch­ester is also run­ning re­duced tram, train and bus ser­vices, with fig­ures show­ing us­age down by between 70% and 80% com­pared with nor­mal lev­els.

Peo­ple in other ar­eas of the coun­try ap­peared to be broadly fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s strict in­struc­tions that they should leave the house only for rea­sons such as shop­ping for es­sen­tial sup­plies or once-a-day ex­er­cise.

In Bris­tol, shops were closed and most city cen­tre of­fices were de­serted save for se­cu­rity guards. Buses were empty or car­ried only a few pas­sen­gers. Su­per­mar­kets, from giants such as Tesco to lo­cal Pol­ish and Chi­nese stores, were al­low­ing only a re­stricted num­ber of shop­pers in at once.

For the most part, peo­ple were keep­ing two me­tres apart as they waited their turn in queues. Peo­ple wait­ing for cash­points also kept more of a dis­tance than nor­mal.

There were ex­cep­tions. Builders work­ing on sites in the Tem­ple Quar­ter and around Cas­tle Park laboured side by side. A hand car­wash in St Paul’s re­mained open. Thatch­ers work­ing on a cot­tage on the out­skirts of Bris­tol con­tin­ued to work. A few peo­ple could not re­sist gath­er­ing in small groups in some parks.

In Marple, a small town on the edge of Stockport, streets were largely empty aside from a small num­ber of peo­ple queu­ing out­side Boots, fully ob­serv­ing the two-me­tre guid­ance.

Dog Groom­ing Spa said they would be post­ing tu­to­rial videos on so­cial me­dia to help cus­tomers keep their dogs in “tip-top con­di­tion”.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MURDO MA­CLEOD/THE GUARDIAN

▼ Alex Sal­mond is said to be­lieve that gov­ern­ment fig­ures helped to or­ches­trate the case against him

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