Alex Salmond pulls out of Holyrood inquiry after evidence censored

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ALEX Salmond has cancelled his appearance at the Holyrood inquiry into his fight with the Scottish Government after his evidence was censored on the advice of prosecutors he had heavily criticised.

The former First Minister had been due to testify under oath before MSPs tomorrow.

He has offered to appear instead on Friday, but this is conditional on him taking further legal advice.

The move followed a bitter row over the parliament’s confused handling of his evidence.

Shortly before Mr Salmond cancelled, Labour MSP Neil Findlay warned the parliament was suffering a “crisis of credibility” over the censorship of the material.

Such criticisms are now likely to grow.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Mr Salmond has informed the Committee that he will not be attending tomorrow’s meeting to give evidence.

“The Committee will instead meet in private to discuss the implications of Mr Salmond’s response and the next steps for its work.”

Mr Salmond’s decision came after a day of frantic manoeuvring and blames games at Holyrood. 

Parliament bosses agreed in the morning to censor evidence from Mr Salmond on Crown Office advice by deleting five of its 33 sections.

A 36-page submission from the former First Minister, which was published by the parliament last night, was removed in its entirety, then reissued with a series of redactions.

That followed the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) holding an emergency meeting after the Crown Office asked it to remove or redact the material. 

The Crown Office raised “grave concerns” there could have been a breach of a court order related to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year. However that would ultimately be a matter for a court to decide. 

In response, the SPCB agreed to redact parts of Mr Salmond’s evidence and republish it in a revised form to avoid any possible breach of a court order.

It reissued the material with five sections spanning six paragraphs removed and replaced with purple lines and the word “redacted”.

Controversially, one of the paragraphs deleted is wholly unrelated to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial, and alleges Ms Sturgeon breached the Scottish ministerial code by making an “untrue” statement to Holyrood in 2019.

Other claims to the same effect remain untouched.

Mr Salmond had made publication in an acceptable form a pre-condition of his testimony, so that his claims can appear in the inquiry’s final report and be used to question witnesses.

In response, Mr Salmond’s lawyers said the parliament had no legal basis for its actions and warned ther former FM might pull out of his scheduled testimony.

David McKie of Glasgow-based Levy & McRae said the parliament action “could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow”. 

He said: “As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the Crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission. He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy.”

Mr Salmond was said to be “alarmed at the interference of Crown Office in a parliamentary Inquiry”, especially after a related legal case earlier this month sought to clarify the issue.

The move reinforced his “concerns” about the Crown Office under Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

The parliament said the changes had been made “in line with representations from the Crown Office”. 

Mr Salmond’s lawyers said there was “no legal basis” for the changes made to his evidence, and demanded to see the grounds on which the redactions were made.

This evening, Mr McKie wrote a follow-up letter in which he said: “As we made clear, a substantial part of client’s evidence was deleted without reference to him which has created a significant legal impediment to his oral evidence. That impediment requires careful consideration and reflection as well as legal advice.

“In light of all these factors, it was clear that both our client and we needed time to consider this material shift in position.

“In addition, he is travelling from Aberdeenshire and would have no time to have a meaningful discussion in the time afforded for his evidence session. 

“These are important matters which have to be dealt with responsibly.

“It is now clearly impossible for him to attend tomorrow in these circumstances, but he remains willing to attend on Friday.

“He accepts that is entirely in the hands of the committee [of inquiry] to whom he has asked that we copy this correspondence.”

It is understood the inquiry may now vote on whether to take evidence from him on Friday.

Its SNP and Green members have previously out-voted the Unionist members in controversial evidence decisions.

The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled a probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond by civil servants in 2018.

He had the exercise overturned in a judicial review in January 2019, showing it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

He was later charged with sexual assault but cleared of all counts at a High Court trial last March.

The Government’s mistakes left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.

After his victory in the civil case, Mr Salmond was charged with sexual assault but cleared on all counts at a High Court trial last March.

In other, uncensored, evidence to the inquiry released last night, he said there was a plot by senior SNP figures, including Nicola Sturgeiobn’s husband, party chief executive Peter Murrell, to damage and even jail him.

The former First Minister also criticised the Crown Office, saying it was withholding key material from the inquiry which would corroborate his claims.

 Nicola Sturgeon challenges Alex Salmond to prove ‘conspiracy’ against him

He criticised the Lord Advocate and said the Crown Office under his leadership was “simply not fit for purpose”.

He also said Mr Wolffe was “manifestly conflicted” in his dual role as both the head of Scotland’s prosecution service and the Scottish Government’s top legal adviser.

The SPCB is chaired by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and includes one MSP from each of Holyrood’s five parties.

In a letter to the parliament after the SPCB’s decision, Mr Mckie said: “This comes as a significant surprise and concern, given that clear agreement was reached on publication of our client’s submissions which are now widely reported and in the public domain. 

“Our client’s final submission makes clear his concerns on the role of the Crown office in this matter already. 

“Today’s intervention only serves to reinforce those concerns. 

“Neither we nor our client have any knowledge of what representations were made by Crown Office and on what  basis they were made. We have not been contacted by the Crown, nor has our client on this matter. 

“Our client’s submission was carefully reviewed by us and by counsel before submission. 

“There is no legal basis for the redactions that we are aware of which you now propose having gone through that extremely careful exercise.”

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