Alex Salmond challenges Lord Advocate and Crown Office to explain 'highly irregular actions'

Alex Salmond has demanded answers from the Lord Advocate as to the reasons behind the Crown Office’s 11th-hour intervention around his evidence submission to the harassment complaints committee.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond, who has challenged the Lord Advocate to explain the Crown's intervention around his evidence on Tuesday

The decision to remove, redact and republish the former first minister’s key evidence on the potential breach of the ministerial code by Nicola Sturgeon led to Mr Salmond withdrawing from his planned appearance in front of the committee on Wednesday morning.

Parliament redacted the submission following the Crown Office’s own 11th-hour intervention, demanding action was taken due to their “grave concerns” over the legality of the submission.

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Alex Salmond invited to appear at harassment complaints inquiry on Friday

Mr Salmond’s legal team said on Tuesday the former SNP leader could now no longer appear due to the redactions creating “a significant legal impediment to his oral evidence”.

He has offered to appear at the committee on Friday, an offer being discussed by committee members on Thursday morning.

In a statement released on Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for Mr Salmond states the former first minister has demanded answers from the Lord Advocate in relation to the “unprecedented and highly irregular actions” of the Crown Office.

The spokesperson said: “Mr Salmond has never refused to give evidence and remains happy to do so.

“On Monday, he had confirmed attendance at the Parliamentary Committee today to deliver his evidence.

“His submissions had been approved and were published that day. Logistical and health and safety arrangements had been made for the evidence session and travel plans had been organised.

“On Monday afternoon, the First Minister pre-emptively announced that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on her government’s part. This was before Mr Salmond’s evidence was even published.

“Then late on Monday night, after publication on the Parliamentary website, the Crown Office intervened, which led to redaction of substantial sections of some of the very evidence the First Minister claimed did not exist.

“In light of this astonishing decision to intervene at the 11th hour and in light of the timing, Mr Salmond asked the committee to defer his evidence by 48 hours to enable his legal team to consider the full implications of this extraordinary intervention.

“Mr Salmond has now asked his lawyers, Levy & McRae, to write to the Lord Advocate as the head of the Crown Office to ask for an explanation for the Crown’s unprecedented and highly irregular actions.”

The former first minister has demanded an explanation on the legal basis for the Crown’s intervention and on why certain redacted paragraphs were not raised as a concern previously, given several have been in the public domain since The Spectator published Mr Salmond’s full submission in early January.

The spokesperson said Mr Salmond had asked his lawyers for the Crown to “preserve and retain all material and communications” with any third parties, which led to the decision to intervene.

Mr Salmond’s lawyers have also posed several direct questions to the Crown Office.

These include why the Crown’s position changed on the redaction of the submission, what changed the legal basis for the redactions and a list of people who made representations on the question of publishing the submission and why concerns were not raised before this week.

The intervention from Mr Salmond comes as the Lord Advocate comes under renewed pressure to give an urgent statement to Holyrood on the matter.

Scottish Labour’s interim leader and member on the Salmond inquiry, Jackie Baillie, said: “The credibility of the inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and indeed the credibility of the entire Parliament, hangs in the balance.

“The Crown Office’s unprecedented intervention yesterday demands explanation – we cannot have this Parliament cowed into submission by the will of the Crown Office.

“The Lord Advocate must appear before the Parliament to explain the actions of the Crown Office immediately.”

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservatives’ leader, said Ms Sturgeon should now publish her evidence on the ministerial code, which she has submitted to James Hamilton QC’s concurrent investigation.

He also called for the Lord Advocate to answer questions from MSPs.

Mr Ross said: “The SNP Government and the Crown Office are shutting down scrutiny at every turn.

“The Lord Advocate must face Parliament to explain why the Crown Office are strong arming Parliament and suppressing evidence – not to protect victims’ identities – but to protect Nicola Sturgeon.

“The First Minister broke cover this week in a panic to demand Alex Salmond bring forward his evidence, only for the Crown Office to shut it down.

“If she won’t release her own evidence on ministerial code breaches, she’s a hypocrite and once again, she’s trying to dodge scrutiny.

“The burden of proof is on the First Minister. However much she protests and tries to deflect, this inquiry is about her government and the ministerial code investigation is on her actions.

“This looks more and more like a cover up every day. Our Parliament is in crisis because of the secrecy and sleaze running throughout the ruling party of government.”

Alistair Bonnington, one of Ms Sturgeon’s former lecturers and a former honorary professor of law at the University of Glasgow, has been scathing of the Crown Office, labelling the body as the “lickspittle arm of the current SNP Government”.

In an opinion piece for The Scotsman, Mr Bonnington said the intervention by the Crown showed “things have gone horribly wrong in Scotland’s constitutional system”.

He said: “Recent events make it impossible for my respect for the Scottish Crown to continue. I look on in horror at the present degeneration of the Crown into what appears to be a lickspittle arm of the current SNP Government.”

The harassment complaints committee is examining the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond by the Scottish Government, which led to a £500,000 legal bill after the Government conceded a judicial review challenge on the grounds of the process being “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial last year.

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