Court ruling could open door to publication of 'explosive' evidence about Salmond affair

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Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeom before their falling out -  Andrew Milligan/PA
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeom before their falling out - Andrew Milligan/PA

Explosive testimony which allies of Alex Salmond believe could end Nicola Sturgeon's political career yet could be published after a court order put in place during the former First Minister’s trial was altered.

The Spectator magazine won a partial victory in the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday, after it argued that restrictions put in place during Mr Salmond’s trial in March were overly restrictive and were curtailing the work of a Holyrood committee.

Lady Dorrian, who presided over the trial that saw Mr Salmond acquitted of all 13 sex assault charges, agreed to tighten the wording although the order making it an offence publish information that could lead to the identification of complainers remains in force.

The judge is to issue written reasons for the change by early next week, which is likely to inform how the decision is interpreted by the media, and a Holyrood committee investigating an unlawful civil service probe into harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The committee had cited legal concerns as the reason it refused to publish a submission from Mr Salmond, which accuses Ms Sturgeon of multiple breaches of the ministerial code, despite a version of the submission being available to read on The Spectator’s website.

It has also withheld a submission from Geoff Aberdein, a former aide to Mr Salmond who held a meeting with Ms Sturgeon before she claims she became aware of the investigation facing her predecessor.

The contents of Mr Aberdein’s submission are described as “explosive” by those familiar with it.

The ruling is also thought to have increased the chance of Mr Salmond appearing under oath in front of the committee.

He had cancelled his appearance, due last Tuesday, after the committee refused to publish the submission but MSPs on the committee will meet on Friday to consider the implications of the ruling. Mr Salmond is thought to believe his evidence will now be published and he is expecting to attend as a witness next week.

Murdo Fraser, the Tory committee member, also said he was prepared to invoke powers that would force Mr Salmond to turn up. Ms Sturgeon is due to give evidence on Tuesday.

“We have been saying from the outset that our committee will not be able to do its job properly unless we are able to question Alex Salmond in person,” Mr Fraser said.

“While we await the full details of the revised order and what implications it will have, I am satisfied that we now have grounds to compel Salmond to attend.

“I would expect SNP members to agree that this must happen, as suggested by Nicola Sturgeon herself.”

He added: “It is vital the committee shows our teeth. A failure to do the right thing would undermine the reputation of our parliament.”

Mr Salmond had refused to appear before the committee because he claimed the refusal to publish his evidence would mean he was unable to set out a full version of events. His allies have claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy, something Ms Sturgeon strongly refutes.

He claims she broke the ministerial code by misleading parliament over her handling of sexual harassment complaints against him, as well as by failing to record meetings with him properly and ignoring legal advice. Ms Sturgeon denies breaking the code.

Jackie Baillie, the interim Scottish Labour leader and a member of the Salmond inquiry, said the court ruling presented the committee with the opportunity to publish the evidence and question Mr Salmond.

She added: “We must seize that opportunity with both hands. It is clear from today’s decision that the publication of the evidence is in the public interest and that it may be used by the Committee.”

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