Sal­mond sex case ‘could col­lapse af­ter blun­ders by Gov­ern­ment’

Fears ex-first min­is­ter won’t get fair trial fol­low­ing in­quiry fi­asco

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Week Civil War Hit SNP - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

THE ‘in­com­pe­tent’ in­quiry by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment into al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against Alex Sal­mond may un­der­mine the crim­i­nal case into the claims, po­lice sources warned last night.

They fear it may now be ‘im­pos­si­ble’ for the for­mer first min­is­ter to re­ceive a fair trial.

Ac­cu­sa­tions that key wit­nesses were en­cour­aged by the Gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer, Ju­dith MacKin­non, could call into ques­tion any ev­i­dence given by those wit­nesses, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice source.

And the Gov­ern­ment’s fail­ures will pile pres­sure on the al­leged vic­tims if and when they give tes­ti­mony, an­other source claimed.

The sug­ges­tion that the ‘in­com­pe­tence’ of Nicola Stur­geon’s Gov­ern­ment could dam­age any crim­i­nal case against her for­mer boss will be pro­foundly em­bar­rass­ing for her.

Two women lodged for­mal sex­ual mis­con­duct com­plaints against Mr Sal­mond in Jan­uary of last year. The com­plaints were not passed to Po­lice Scot­land un­til last Au­gust, by which time Ms Stur­geon had held five sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tions with Mr Sal­mond about the case – three in per­son and two on the phone.

Their talks ceased when Mr Sal­mond be­gan le­gal ac­tion over the Gov­ern­ment’s in­quiry, which he branded ‘grossly un­fair’ and ‘fun­da­men­tally flawed’.

He ar­gued the probe was bi­ased and it was re­vealed that Ms MacKin­non had met wit­nesses be­fore she was ap­pointed as the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer.

Last week, the Gov­ern­ment probe into the sex claims was branded ‘un­law­ful’ at the Court of Ses­sion and the Gov­ern­ment was forced to con­cede the case and apol­o­gise. Ms Stur­geon ad­mit­ted Ms MacKin­non’s meet­ings with com­plainants had given ‘the im­pres­sion of par­tial­ity’. But she said: ‘The Gov­ern­ment does not ac­cept claims that it was in any way en­cour­ag­ing the com­plaints, nor is there any sug­ges­tion that the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer did, in fact, act in a par­tial way.’

But it is the ‘im­pres­sion’ of par­tial­ity which has po­ten­tially weak­ened the crim­i­nal case.

A se­nior po­lice source warned: ‘I don’t think it’s got any im­pli­ca­tion, but that’s not to say it has not, in some way, com­pro­mised ev­i­dence that may be forth­com­ing.

‘If, as has been widely al­luded to, Ju­dith MacKin­non has as­sisted the wit­nesses, that cre­ates a false im­pres­sion as to what peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences might have been, and that will be a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult mat­ter for any court or prose­cu­tor – if it gets that far – to dis­count.

‘It can only have a prej­u­di­cial im­pact on fair­ness to any po­ten­tial ac­cused.’

The source added: ‘If he does find him­self in court, the ac­tions of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will make it im­pos­si­ble for Alex Sal­mond to be given a fair hear­ing.’

An­other in­sider said it would put added scru­tiny on the com­plainants’ ev­i­dence, if the case reaches court.

The in­sider said: ‘Those who sup­port Alex Sal­mond ap­pear to be build­ing a nar­ra­tive sug­gest­ing the case against him is al­ready tainted by the in­com­pe­tent ef­forts of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

‘Those ef­forts have un­doubt­edly cre­ated yet an­other hur­dle to tak­ing mat­ters for­ward.

‘In the event of a crim­i­nal trial, it has opened up a new di­men­sion to a key de­fence ques­tion, “How can we trust the ev­i­dence given by wit­nesses is the truth?”.

‘As a re­sult, this de­ba­cle places ad­di­tional and un­wel­come pres­sures on the women con­cerned –

‘Cre­ated an­other hur­dle to tak­ing mat­ters for­ward’

ad­di­tional pres­sures they should not have had to face.’

Po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents say the women have been let down.

Scot­tish Tory equal­i­ties spokesman An­nie Wells said: ‘Nicola Stur­geon’s ac­tions might have had a pro­foundly neg­a­tive ef­fect on the crim­i­nal case. The fail­ure of the SNP Gov­ern­ment pro­ce­dure to be im­par­tial – a pro­ce­dure signed off by Nicola Stur­geon – has crit­i­cally un­der­mined crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings.

‘The women who brought these com­plaints for­ward de­served a fair hear­ing but Ms Stur­geon may have de­nied them that op­por­tu­nity.’

A Scot­tish Labour spokesman said: ‘Two coura­geous women put their faith in a sys­tem that has badly let them down. Alex Sal­mond and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment have ques­tions to an­swer about how this case has been han­dled.’

The po­lice, Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and Alex Sal­mond’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clined to com­ment in de­tail.

A Po­lice Scot­land spokesman said: ‘In­quiries are con­tin­u­ing and we will not be com­ment­ing fur­ther.’ A spokesman for Mr Sal­mond said: ‘There is an on­go­ing po­lice in­quiry and we will be mak­ing no fur­ther com­ment.’

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said: ‘There is noth­ing to sug­gest that the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer did not con­duct their du­ties in an im­par­tial way. We re­ject any sug­ges­tion that com­plaints were in any way en­cour­aged.

‘The in­ves­ti­ga­tion Po­lice Scot­land are con­duct­ing is en­tirely sep­a­rate. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion is live and we there­fore can­not com­ment on it.’

DE­NIAL: Alex Sal­mond re­futes al­le­ga­tions

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