Anger at sheriff court trial for Bill Walker

Bill Walker: 23 counts of abuse. Picture: PA
Bill Walker: 23 counts of abuse. Picture: PA
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DOMESTIC abuse campaigners have criticised the trial of disgraced MSP Bill Walker, whose conviction in a sheriff court last week means he will be able to remain in his £58,000 a year post despite being found guilty of a string of assaults.

The former SNP MSP was found guilty last week of 23 counts of domestic abuse, stretching back nearly 30 years, against three former wives and a step-daughter.

But because his case was directed by the Crown Office lawyers to be heard in a sheriff court without a jury, the maximum term he can be sentenced to is 12 months.

MSPs are only removed from their posts if they are sentenced to more than 12 months in jail – meaning that there is nothing stopping Walker from continuing to hold on to his job and claim expenses until the next parliamentary elections in 2016.

It emerged last week that the procurator fiscal in Dunfermline, where Walker is MSP, originally raised solemn proceedings against him, which would have allowed a sheriff to have imposed a sentence of more than a year.

However, the Crown Office reviewed the case and decided to change it to a summary trial. Officials declined to provide an explanation for the decision. Lily Greenan, the head of Scottish Women’s Aid, said last night: “We now have a picture of a serial offender, so there is a question of what is the basis on which it was moved from being a solemn trial?”

She added: “The case raises questions about what counts as a serious offence. We are looking for a fairly drastic look at the regulations.”

Sheriff Kathrine Mackie, who described Walker as “controlling, domineering, demeaning and belittling” towards his wives, heard that he had assaulted his first wife on three occasions, punching her in the face in the run-up to their wedding day in January 1967, giving her a black eye.

The MSP was further found to have assaulted his second wife Anne Gruber 15 times.

There were a further four assaults on his third wife. Walker was also found guilty of assaulting Gruber’s daughter Anne Louise Paterson by repeatedly striking her on the head with a saucepan in 1978, injuring her.

Twenty MSPs have now signed a parliamentary motion, lodged by Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, stating: “The parliament believes that Bill Walker MSP should vacate his seat in the Parliament immediately.” Signatories include former SNP colleagues of Walker’s, Graeme Dey, Chic Brodie, John Mason, Joan McAlpine and Maureen Watt.

MSPs are also considering staging a parliamentary debate and vote on Walker’s position, after his sentencing next month, even though such a vote would have no power to force him to quit.

A spokesman for Minister for Parliamentary Business Joe FitzPatrick said: “We are keen to examine all options that have arisen from this matter.”

Paul Martin, Scottish Labour’s business manager said he would raise the idea of a debate and a vote at a meeting of the parties’ parliamentary leaders. “We would be content with a debate,” he said.

The SNP is facing fresh pressure from Labour to explain why it allowed Walker to stand as an SNP candidate in 2011, despite warnings about his past behaviour having been passed to the office of deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon.

However, an SNP spokesman said that Sturgeon was not made aware of the details and that it was Walker’s “inescapable responsibility” to have told the SNP’s candidate assessment panel about his past, something he chose not to do.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, Crown Counsel instructed that the case should be tried at summary level.”

Sheriff Mackie will sentence Walker next month.

Twitter: @EddieBarnes23