14:17, March 24 203 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-24 14:17:04
Alex Salmond allies say he plans to sue the Scottish government

Alex Salmond is expected to sue the Scottish government over the alleged role of its senior officials in his prosecution for sexual assaults, his allies have disclosed.

Sources close to the former first minister said he believed senior figures inside the government and Nicola Sturgeon’s office helped orchestrate significant parts of the case against him, and that he intends to sue for extensive damages.

Salmond is said to be particularly furious that details of an internal Scottish government inquiry into sexual assault allegations were leaked to the Daily Record in August 2018, and to believe a government official is to blame.

Salmond was acquitted on Monday of all 14 assault charges, including one of attempted rape and another of intent to rape, by majority verdicts, following an 11-day trial at the high court in Edinburgh.

He was formally acquitted of one sexual assault charge midway through the trial after it was withdrawn by the prosecution. The jury later found him not guilty of 12 of the charges and said one was not proven, a verdict that also acquits the accused.

“It’s pretty clear he intends to sue the Scottish government for damages,” said one ally. “He believes this came from the top.”

His allies also believe prominent officials in Sturgeon’s office and the Scottish National party should be fired after text messages and emails came to light that Salmond argues raises serious questions about their role in the case, and their handling of allegations against him.

One close friend of Salmond’s said the former SNP leader is also very keen to give evidence to a Holyrood investigation into a botched Scottish government internal inquiry into complaints of misconduct brought against him by two civil servants in 2018.

The special committee of inquiry at Holyrood was set up after Leslie Evans, the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, admitted in January 2019 the internal investigation had the appearance of bias because the official in charge of it had prior contact with the complainants.

The alleged assaults against the two civil servants were investigated by Police Scotland detectives and included in the charges levelled against Salmond during his trial. He was acquitted by the jury of both those sexual assaults on Monday.

Salmond won his judicial review in January 2019 and in August 2019, the Scottish government paid out £512,000 to cover the legal fees he had incurred.

The specially convened Holyrood committee, with includes three former SNP ministers, is due to start hearing witnesses later this year after the coronavirus outbreak has subsided. The Scottish parliament’s sessions have been significantly curtailed by the crisis.

In the interim, the committee has asked to be given copies of non-confidential evidence used during the trial so MSPs can study the background papers during the lockdown period and spring recess next month.

Before the trial, Salmond’s lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC, presented in closed court details of text messages between senior figures in the Scottish government and SNP, which Salmond argues proves there was orchestration.

Joanna Cherry QC, an SNP MP who is one of Salmond’s closest allies, said on Monday: “Some of the evidence which has come to light raises very serious questions over the process that was employed within the Scottish government to investigate the alleged complaints.”

Sturgeon told reporters on Monday she was ready to give evidence after the coronavirus crisis was over. “The court has given a verdict, a decision, and that must be respected,” she said.

“I have no doubt there will be further discussion around this issue in due course, and I will welcome that, but that time is not now. This country faces a crisis right now, bigger than we’ve ever faced before.”

A close ally of Sturgeon’s dismissed claims by Salmond’s supporters that the first minister would be forced to resign due to the controversy. He said there were few MPs or MSPs who believed that was justified.

“There are going to be difficulties ahead as we navigate through this,” he said. “Is this going to bring the first minister down? No, it’s not. I don’t see that they’ve got a mechanism to do that. It’s not great, but we will get through this.”

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