Salmond inquiry ‘cannot proceed due to obstruction’

Convener Linda Fabiani said the committee is 'completely frustrated with the lack of evidence' it has received.

Salmond inquiry ‘cannot proceed due to obstruction’ Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell.

The Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond “simply cannot proceed” due to “obstruction”, its convener has said.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said the special committee is “completely frustrated with the lack of evidence” it has received.

The inquiry is hampered by written responses “still outstanding” from the Scottish Government, from SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – husband of Nicola Sturgeon – and from Salmond himself, she said.

The committee has met in private with no new oral witnesses for the last two weeks and will be forced to do so again next Tuesday, Fabiani added.

Advertisement

It had been hoping to hear further oral evidence from the likes of Mr Murrell as well as the First Minister and her predecessor.

Police Scotland launched a probe earlier this month after apparent WhatsApp messages from Mr Murrell which discuss “pressurising” police over the Salmond case.

Sent at the start of the year, around the time criminal proceedings were beginning against the former FM, Sturgeon’s husband also allegedly suggested London’s Metropolitan Police should open a second investigation into Salmond’s conduct.

Mr Murrell’s message reportedly read: “The more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers.”

Advertisement

The messages were revealed by East Lothian MP and Salmond ally Kenny MacAskill, who says he was leaked them anonymously.

The Holyrood inquiry has already heard evidence under oath twice from permanent secretary Leslie Evans as well as speaking to former permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden and trade union representatives.

In a statement on Tuesday, Fabiani said: “The committee continues to be completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing.

“We had hoped to be in a position to hear further oral evidence, but with responses still outstanding from the Scottish Government, chief executive of the SNP and the former First Minister, all of this means that we simply cannot proceed at this stage.” 

The convener added: “We have no choice but to meet in private again next week to review the evidence we have received to date.

“But I would urge all those we have approached to engage productively with the committee so it can get on with the task in hand.”

Committee member and Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie went further, suggesting the inquiry is becoming a “laughing stock”.

Advertisement

She went on: “It is all too clear that the government’s commitment to transparency was little more than a bad joke and that they are determined to prevent the committee from executing its vital task. 

“The Scottish Government and, indeed, many others involved in this affair have demonstrated contempt for this committee and its aims. 

“The secrecy must end and the Scottish Government and others must stop treating elected representatives as annoyances.”

The committee has previously complained of the government failing to meet deadlines to provide evidence and heavily redacting or simply not including key files.

Scottish ministers say this is due to legal restrictions.

The inquiry was set up in early 2019 after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against Salmond was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former First Minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The claims were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, it went on to trigger Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former First Minister, and ultimately, a criminal trial.

Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual offences by a jury in the High Court in March.