FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has been dragged into the escalating row between an award-winning film-maker and a Scottish police force over his arrest while shooting a controversial documentary on Donald Trump’s golf resort.
• First Minister accused of and defending Grampian Police in wake of public outcry following screening of film
• Salmond ‘hiding behind an utterly discredited report by a Grampian police officer’ says Mr Baxter
• Chief Constable McKerracher said: “I can assure you that Grampian Police have responded to all calls, protests or incidents at the estate in an impartial and transparent manner.”
The First Minister has been accused of making “false statements” about the detention of documentary-maker Anthony Baxter by officers from Grampian Police and defending the force’s actions in the wake of the public outcry which followed BBC2’s screening of his “You’ve Been Trumped” documentary earlier this year.
The screening of the documentary, which showed Mr Baxter and co-producer Richard Phinney being detained by two Grampian officers as they filmed at the edge of Trump’s championship course,
led to Mr Salmond writing to Colin McKerracher, Grampian’s Chief Constable, after he had been contacted by a number of constituents expressing the “strong suggestion that Grampian Police acted in a partial and unacceptable manner.”
But Mr Salmond has now been accused of “grossly distorting the facts” in a letter which he has sent out to those who complained about the manner in which the film makers were arrested and detained.
Mr Baxter said the First Minister had falsely claimed that he and Mr Phinney considered “the matter was closed” after their arrest and that Mr Salmond had also falsely alleged the filmmakers had not issued a complaint about the way the incident was handled by the force.
The Montrose-based film maker declared: “The First Minister’s comments are a gross distortion of the facts, and are a serious attack on our reputation. As Mr Salmond well knows, we have spent more than two years publicly trying to call attention to the intimidation and harassment the police responsible for at the Menie Estate. We asked for a response from Mr Salmond and the Justice Secretary in October, 2010, and complained to the National Union of Journalists.”
He claimed: “During this time, a period of more than two years, the First Minster and the Scottish Ministers - despite their legal responsibility for police policy in Scotland, and the proper functioning of the legal system - maintained a wall of silence about the harassment and intimidation taking place on the Menie Estate.
“Mr Salmond has made no effort to hear our side of the events and instead repeats statements put forward by the Grampian Police as if they are factual. He says we were arrested because it was ‘alleged they had committed a crime.’ What he does not say is that the only person who made the allegation was an employee of the Trump Organisation.”
Mr Baxter continued: “Mr Salmond is hiding behind an utterly discredited report by a Grampian police officer into his own force’s behaviour. He also attempts to paint us as somehow obstructing a Grampian Police investigation.
“Mr Salmond’s sudden intervention, and his apparent support for the Grampian Police’s actions and spin, are deeply troubling as they will only add to the widespread belief that the police, the Government, and the Trump Organisation worked in concert against those who questioned the value of a luxury golf course development on a Site of Special Scientific Interest.As a public champion of the Trump development, Mr Salmond, is hopelessly compromised. As First Minister of Scotland, he certainly should not be issuing false and deeply misleading statements. “
Mr Salmond, who has still to respond to the allegations, states in his letter: “ Following their detention on 30 July 2010, neither Mr Baxter or Mr Phinney made any complaint regarding the way in which they had been dealt with. I understand that, in June 2011, Mr Baxter requested an apology from Grampian Police, but subsequently declined to cooperate with the investigation initiated into his concerns and said that the matter, as far as he was concerned, was closed.
“In relation to your concern about press freedoms, you will note the point made by the Chief Constable that Mr Baxter and Mr Phinney were detained because it was alleged that they had committed a crime and not because they were working as journalists. Grampian Police investigated and responded to a letter received from the NUJ in September 2010 seeking assurances that the force was not targeting journalists. These concerns were investigated and a response issued in December 2010. I understand that no further correspondence was received from the NUJ and that this aspect was concluded.”
Meanwhile Chief Constable McKerracher states in a letter to Mr Salmond that he rejects any suggestion that the force has acted in a partial and unacceptable manner. Mr McKerracher states: I strongly refute these claims which suggest that Grampian Police are not impartial in the manner in which they have policed issues relating to the development at Menie Estate. I can assure you that Grampian Police have responded to all calls, protests or incidents at the estate in an impartial and transparent manner.”
He adds: ”Grampian Police has acknowledged that the actions of the officers could have been different and the officers concerned have been given advice, which I continue to regard as proportionate in the circumstances after a thorough investigation. It is important to emphasise that Mr Baxter and Mr Phinney were detained because it was alleged that they had committed a crime and not because they were working as journalists. The law in Scotland allows the police to detain citizens who are reasonably suspected of committing a Breach of the Peace.“
A spokeswoman for Mr Salmond’s constituency office refuted the claims. She said: Following the broadcast of ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ in October Mr Salmond, as local MSP, wrote to Grampian Police seeking an explanation around the suggestion in the film that officers had acted in a partial and unacceptable manner. The Chief Constable responded and Mr Salmond has shared this reply with people who wrote to him. Mr Baxter, wrongly, presents the views of Grampian Police as a statement from Mr Salmond, which it is not.”