NICOLA Sturgeon’s husband has repeatedly refused to say whether he gave a “false statement” under oath to the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair.
SNP chief executive Peter Murrell said he “absolutely refuted” the suggestion that he had, after being forced to return to answer more questions from MSPs.
However he also refused to answer a Yes or No question on whether a particular statement he made to the inquiry in his first evidence in December was false.
Wilfully making a false statement under oath is punishable by up to five years in jail.
He also shifted his evidence about a key meeting between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon at the couple’s home in Glasgow in April 2018.
Ms Sturgeon told parliament the meeting was the first time she learned Mr Salmond was being investigated by her officials for alleged sexual misconduct.
Having previously said he was unaware in advance that the meeting would take place, Mr Murrell said he merely hadn’t known it was “a meeting for a purpose”.
He said: “I just thought he [Mr Salmond] was popping in for a chat about any matter.”
He was accused by one MSP of not helping the inquiry “one little bit”.
Labour last month urged the Crown Office to investigate whether Mr Murrell had “perjured himself” in his previous, contradictory evidence to the inquiry.
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MSPs are looking at how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct claims made against him by civil servants in 2018.
He had the exercise overturned in a judicial review, showing it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government flaw that left taxpayers with a £512,000 for his costs.
He was later charged with sexuual assault but cleared on all counts at a High Court trial last March.
Mr Salmond was due to testify tomorrow, but pulled out, saying he would not appear unless MSPs published a submission in which he accuses Ms Sturgeon of misleading parliament and breaching the Scottish ministerial code.
The inquiry refused to do so last week in case it fell foul of court orders, data or privacy laws.
After the Government’s defence of the civil case collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon admitted meeting Mr Salmond three times while he was under investigation by her officials.
She told MSPs the first she learned of the probe was when Mr Salmond told her at her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018. She then met him again in June and July.
Mr Murrell was dragged back to the inquiry after twice ducking appearances after he took legal advice.
MSPs agreed to use their power to compel witnesses if he refused again.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser reminded Mr Murrell that it was a “criminal offence to give false information under oath” under Section 44(1) of the Criminal Law Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1995, punishable by a fine or up five years in prison.
He said: “I mention that because it puts into context the importance of evidence that has been given to this committee to be accurate and truthful.”
He then quoted Mr Murrell’s evidence to the inquiry on 8 December.
Mr Fraser has asked about the 2 April meeting and another on 14 July 2018 between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon at the latter’s Glasgow home.
Mr Murrell had said then: “I was not at home and I was not aware of the capacity in which she was having those meetings.”
Mr Fraser had said: “You were not in the house at the time.”
Mr Murrell had replied: “I was not at home during either meeting.”
However later in the Decenmber session, Mr Murrell changed his story, and said: “I arrived home not long before the meeting ended.”
Mr Murrell also said at first in December that he was “not really aware” that Mr Salmond was coming to the house, then later said he knew about it the day before.
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In today’s session, Mr Fraser said: “You have given this committee under oath two different accounts of the meeting of the 2nd of April, both in relation to your knowledge of it in advance and whether you were in the house.
“Can you tell us which of these accounts is true and which is false?”
Mr Murrell said he had made clear that he was not at the meeting and did not know what it was about.
He said: “I happened to arrive home just before the meeting finished. I came in the door, acknowledged the people that were in one room, didn’t see Alex or Nicola at that point, went upstairs to change. By the time I had done that they had left. I just wasn’t at home.”
He said that Mr Salmond being in the house was not uncommon and he didn’t know what the meeting was about.
He said: “When you’re giving evidence and you’re being questioned in this fashion, it is difficult to go back to the point of what you knew and when.
“I didn’t know what the meeting was about. There were additional people in the house I didn’t expect. I had expected that Alex would be gone. I think the meeting was meant to happen earlier but he was late.”
Mr Fraser said: “When you told me, in response to my question, giving evidence to me under oath, that you were not at home during the meeting, and when you told me you were not really aware that Mr Salmond was coming to the house, you were giving us false information having sworn an oath to tell the truth?”
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Mr Murrell replied: “No. Because I wasn’t aware that the meeting was for a purpose. I just thought he was popping in for a chat about any matter.
“I had no awareness of the fact that it was a meeting for a purpose.
“I thought he was just coming for a catch-up with Nicola. It’s pretty simple.”
Mr Fraser, a lawyer by training, went on: “I further suggest, Mr Murrell, you have made an untruthful statement to this committee, which is self-evident.”
Mr Murrell interjected: “I don’t think so. I wasn’t at the meeting.”
As the two argued over each other in the virtual session, convener Linda Fabiani was forced to intervene.
Mr Fraser continued by quoting their previous exchange from December 8 in which Mr Murrell had said he was not at home for the meeting.
He said: “That was a false statement. Yes or no?”
Mr Murrell said: “I refute…”
Mr Fraser said: “Yes or no, Mr Murrell, it’s not a difficult question. Was that a false statement?”
Mr Murrell said: “I have no idea how long the meeting lasted. I wasn’t here [in the house]for any part of the meeting. I happened to arrive home just at the meeting was finishing. That’s all I can say. It’s not complicated.
“I absolutely refute that I’m.. what’s being suggested. I just happened to arrive home as the meeting was ending.”
Mr Fraser pressed on: “You might be refuting what’s suggested, Mr Murrell, but you’re refusing to answer a very simple question, which is whether your statement on the 8th of December to me, under oath, that you were not at home during the meeting is true. And I’ll ask you again. Is that statement true, yes or no?”
Mr Murrell said: “I wasn’t at the meeting.”
Mr Fraser said: “That’s not the question I’m asking you.”
Mr Murrell did not reply.
Mr Fraser said he wanted to move because “we’re getting nowhere here”.
He then asked about the capacity in which the meeting was held.
Ms Sturgeon has told parliament it was not about government business, but was about SNP business. However she refused to tell Mr Murrell, the SNP’s top official, about its contents.
Mr Murrell also said in December that he concluded it was a “Scottsish Government matter”.
If so, that would contract Ms Sturgeon’s evidence and suggest she misled parliament.
Asked if that was still his position, Mr Murrell said: “Em, my evidence was evidence was reflecting my impression but it’s not for me to speculate the nature or the basis of the meeting. That’s for the first minister. She’ll be here next Tuesday and you can asked her these questions. He decision on the nature of the meeting is the only that that matters here.
“You should ask that witness the question. It’s merely speculation on my part.”
Mr Fraser concluded: “Mr Murrell has said several times that it’s not for him to speculate on the nature of that meeting. But he didn’t just speculate, he was definitive.
“I asked about the meeting [in the December session], he said it was a Scottish Government matter. So he has already set out a view on this. All I’m asking is, does he stand by the view he set out to use under oath on the 8th of December.”
Mr Murrell said: “I think,. As I’ve already said, speculation on my part having read her [Ms Sturgeon’s evidence].. I mean, we now know the matter that was raised at that meeting, which was to do with complaints. And those complaints werre under the Scottish Government procedure”.
Mr Fraser said: “I’m afraid, Mr Murrell, having hauled you back to try and clarify your evidence, you’re not helping us one little bit. You haven’t clarified anything, frankly.”
Mr Murrell did not respond.