Former UK ambassador sentenced to eight months in jail over Salmond trial blog posts

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Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray addreses Julian Assange supporters at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London -  Julian Simmonds/ Julian Simmonds
Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray addreses Julian Assange supporters at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London - Julian Simmonds/ Julian Simmonds

A former diplomat who published information which could have identified four women who gave evidence against Alex Salmond has been given an eight month prison sentence.

Judge Lady Dorrian told Craig Murray, 62, that his actions struck at the “heart of the administration of justice.”

She told the blogger that he may he have discouraged other women who have allegedly fallen victim to sexual assault from coming forward and giving evidence in court. Mr Salmond was cleared of all charges against him.

Murray breached a strict court order which was passed during the former first minister’s trial last year to protect women who gave evidence against him.

At a hearing held earlier this year, the judges found that Murray had broken the law by publishing information which breached the order.

Alex Salmond arrives at his trial last year - he was cleared of all charges - Jane Barlow/PA
Alex Salmond arrives at his trial last year - he was cleared of all charges - Jane Barlow/PA

He published details about the women which could have allowed readers to discover their identities including by means of 'jigsaw' identification.

On Tuesday, Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, told the 62-year-old blogger that his actions were so grave that it could only be dealt with a prison sentence.

However, Murray will not go to prison immediately. The order has been suspended until later his month so that Murray’s lawyers can prepare an application to the High Court to grant them permission to appeal their decision to the UK Supreme Court.

Murray’s legal team are also set to argue that their client should receive bail if the case is given the go ahead to proceed to the UK Supreme Court.

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The suspension will also allow Murray to give evidence in a Spanish case concerning Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

This case will focus on allegations that a Spanish firm spied on him whilst he lived inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

However, Mr Murray will have to give evidence remotely as he has agreed to hand over his passport.

Lady Dorrian, who sat with colleagues Lord Turnbull and Lord Menzies told parties in the case that a prison sentence was inevitable

She added : “The European Court on Human Rights noted that criminal proceedings concerning sexual offences are often conceived of as an ordeal by the victim.

“The historical reluctance of complainers in coming forward with their complaints as a result of a concern about how they will be treated is at the heart which anonymity is given.

“Anonymity provides complainers with the security they ought to have of the certainty that thier identity will be protected.

“Actions such as those of the respondent which are likely to erode that security taken in the face of a clear order of the court designed to enhance the protection thereof and designed to prevent the prohibited information from becoming known to the public - even in a coded way - require to be treated as contempt of considerable gravity.

Craig Murray was given an eight month sentence -  Guy Smallman/Getty Images Europe
Craig Murray was given an eight month sentence - Guy Smallman/Getty Images Europe

“These actions create a real risk of complainers may be reluctant to come forward in future cases - particularly in those cases where the case maybe a high profile or one likely to attract significant publicity.

“The actions strike at the heart of the fair administration of justice. Not withstanding the previous good 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.”

Mr Murray is an ex-UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. He now publishes a blog about political matters and often criticises the mainstream media and established politicians.

His previous lawyer John Scott QC told the judges earlier this year that Murray has a passionate interest in “open justice” and “whistle blowing”.

Mr Scott said his client also saw the Alex Salmond trial as part of “a bigger picture.”

Mr Scott said: “He sees and reported on the court as a beacon of integrity.”

At proceedings, which resulted in Mr Salmond being acquitted of all charges, Lady Dorrian passed orders which prevented naming the women who gave evidence against the politician.

The Order also prevented publication of were also ordered not to disclose any details about the women which would allow readers to realise their identities.

However, prosecutors claimed Mr Murray breached the orders and published information on his blog which allowed readers to gain enough knowledge that they could go onto identify the women.

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Earlier this year, Clive Thomson was jailed for six months for publishing the names of women who gave evidence on his Twitter account.

Last Friday, Murray’s lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC said Murray suffers from pulmonary hypertension - a debilitating lung condition.

Mr Dunlop, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, told judges that a senior doctor fears Murray’s health might make it difficult for him to be in prison.

Mr Dunlop made the submission to judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull at a hearing of the high court. He said that sending Murray would breach his right to freedom of speech - article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Dunlop said that Murray had been married to his partner for 21 years and was a father to a two month old baby and an 11-year-old son.

Mr Dunlop also said that in recent years, the mainstream media have also been found guilty of committing contempt of courts. He said that courts do not jail journalists or editors but fine them.

He said the court should impose the same punishment on Mr Murray. Murray’s lawyers will address the high court later this month.

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