Alex Salmond testimony in doubt as evidence censored after Crown Office intervention

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ALEX Salmond has warned he may pull out of a Holyrood inquiry after his evidence was censored following an intervention by prosecutors.

The former First Minister’s lawyers said the parliament’s decision “could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow”. 

They 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.

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.

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

 Holyrood censors Alex Salmond inquiry evidence after prosecutors intervene

However David McKie of Levy & McRae, for Mr Salmond, said: “This is our client’s submission and he is entitled to have it published. If any aspect of it is removed, it compromises his oral evidence.”

The development came after Holyrood bosses agreed today to censor evidence submitted by 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 this morning, 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 has now 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.

 Alex Salmond claims Nicola Sturgeon’s husband part of plot to ‘imprison me’

Mr Salmond, who is due to give oral evidence under oath to MSPs tomorrow, had made publication in an acceptable form a pre-condition of his testimony.

Publication means his claims can appear in the inquiry’s final report and be used to question witnesses.

In response to the SPCB’s decision to redact material it had previously cleared for publication, Mr Salmond’s lawyer wrote to the Holyrood authorities.

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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Mr McKie went on: “This is our client’s submission and he is entitled to have it published. If any aspect of it is removed, it compromises his oral evidence.

“We have asked on numerous occasions for assurances on these issues from the committee.

“After publication of his submissions yesterday we concluded not unreasonably that the issue was  resolved, partly to our client’s satisfaction and certainly to allow him to fulfil his oath. 

“Your email potentially – and fundamentally – changes that. We therefore require to see URGENTLY the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations. These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow. 

“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.”

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.

Responding to the Crown Office intervention. SNP MSP George Adam said: “This is precisely the situation that I, Rape Crisis Scotland and others warned parliament about last week.

“All steps must now be taken to ensure complainers are properly protected in what remains of this committee’s hearings.

“Those who have put their petty political games before the protection of complainers should hang their heads in shame.

“For parliament to appear to break a contempt of court order, against legal advice and despite having been warned in advance, is a disgrace.

“Those members of the committee and of the corporate body who agreed to behave in this way owe firstly the complainers, but also the whole parliament, an apology.”

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

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The SPCB agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office. 

“We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”

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