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A blogger and former British diplomat has been sentenced to eight months in jail for “abhorrent” contempt of court over his blog coverage of the Alex Salmond trial.
Craig Murray watched two days of Mr Salmond’s trial last March from the public gallery of Edinburgh’s High Court before writing about it on his website.
Judges subsequently ruled that 62-year-old Murray was in contempt of court over blog material capable of identifying four women who had made complaints about Mr Salmond, acquitted of all charges.
Sentencing the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Lady Dorrian said Murray knew there were court orders giving the women anonymity and he was “relishing” the potential disclosure of their identities.
Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian said revealing complainers’ identities was “abhorrent,” explaining that Murray had deliberately risked jigsaw identification – information which allows someone to be identified when pieced together.
Murray’s offending blog posts and tweets were written over a period of a month and remained up, unredacted, despite the blogger being told they could potentially lead to the identification of women who had made complaints.
Lady Dorrian said: “It appears from the posts and articles that he was in fact relishing the task he set himself, which was essentially to allow the identities of complainers to be discerned – which he thought was in the public interest – in a way which did not attract sanction.”
The judge added: “These actions create a real risk that complainers may be reluctant to come forward in future cases, particularly where the case may be high profile or likely to attract significant publicity.
“The actions strike at the heart of the fair administration of justice. Notwithstanding the previous character of the respondent and his health issues, we do not think we can dispose of this case other than by way of a sentence of imprisonment.”
Murray was initially given 48 hours to hand himself in to a police station, but after a challenge by his lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC. This was extended to three weeks so Murray can appeal the sentence.
In his previous mitigation submission, Mr Dunlop said Murray was a man of “impeccable character” and previously “untarnished reputation”.
He said it is no exaggeration to say the retired diplomat is already suffering “significant punishment” from the impact of the case and argued that sending Murray to prison would be “harsh to the point of being disproportionate”.
The lawyer added: “If anyone out there thinks that playing with fire in the field of jigsaw identification is a zero-sum game, their views have been disabused by the ruling this court has already made.”
Murray was the British ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004. He was fired by the Foreign Office, having criticised the regime of then-president Islam Karimov over human rights failings.
He claimed to have been a “victim of conscience” and wrote a memoir of his eventful time in the country called Murder in Samarkand.
In recent years Murray has questioned the UK government’s account of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, and has also spoken out in favour of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.