Tim Farron backs Alistair Carmichael over memo leak

Tim Farron is appointed new leader of the Liberal Democrats, watched by his predecessor Nick Clegg. Picture: Getty
Tim Farron is appointed new leader of the Liberal Democrats, watched by his predecessor Nick Clegg. Picture: Getty
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THE new leader of the Liberal Democrats has given his backing to the party’s last remaining Scottish MP Alistair Carmichael over the controversial Nicola Sturgeon memo leak row.

Tim Farron said “most decent people” would think the Shetland MP, who has come under pressure to quit over the affair, should be given a second chance.

Mr Carmichael is facing a legal challenge to his re-election to Westminster after he admitted responsibility for a leaked memo written by a civil servant which wrongly suggested First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would prefer to see David Cameron, rather then Ed Miliband, win the general election and become Prime Minister.

The former Scottish secretary, who had previously insisted he was unaware of the memo, admitted after the general election that he had allowed his special adviser to release details of the document to a newspaper.

Mr Farron, who became the Lib Dems’ new leader on Thursday, was asked yesterday if Mr Carmichael should resign and stand for re-election in a by-election.

He said: “Most decent people – and most people are decent people – think people deserve a second chance.

“Alistair has made a very, very fulsome apology and I think most decent people in Scotland, and in Orkney and Shetland in particular, and across the country think, fair enough, give the guy a break.

“A handful of people want to pursue it, that is their right, but I think it speaks more about them than they would want it to be said.”

Mr Farron replaces Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader after defeating former coalition minister Norman Lamb in a two-way contest.

The confidential memo was written by a civil servant in the Scotland Office and was a third-hand account of a conversation between the First Minister and the French ambassador.

Both the First Minister and the ambassador insisted she had not made the comments about the Prime Minister, and the memo had contained a disclaimer that parts of the conversation may have been “lost in translation”.

Mr Carmichael, who was Scottish secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition before May’s election, initially denied leaking the confidential memo to the Daily Telegraph newspaper but has since admitted being responsible.

The article, which was published in the newspaper on 4 April, at the start of the general election campaign, contained details of a private meeting between Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador Sylvie Bermann.

It claimed the SNP leader would prefer to see Tory leader David Cameron become prime minister rather than his Labour opponent Ed Miliband.

Both Ms Sturgeon and the ambassador denied the account and Mr Carmichael accepted, after the election campaign, that the “details of the account are not correct”.

Mr Carmichael will appear before a special electoral court in September after a legal challenge to his election was lodged by a group of constituents under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

Earlier this month, the press regulator upheld a complaint against the Daily Telegraph over the story about the memo.

Its complaints committee said that, while the newspaper was entitled to report on the memorandum, it had published its contents as facts without taking additional steps prior to publication, such as contacting the parties involved for their comment.

The newspaper said it had confirmed the accuracy of the memo with two sources.