Alex Salmond faces pressure on phone hack inquiry

ALEX Salmond came under pressure over phone hacking yesterday after he repeatedly refused to disclose whether he had been a victim of News of the World journalists and ruled out a Scottish inquiry into the practice.

ALEX Salmond came under pressure over phone hacking yesterday after he repeatedly refused to disclose whether he had been a victim of News of the World journalists and ruled out a Scottish inquiry into the practice.

The First Minister faced claims of “arrogance” and accusations of treating Holyrood with “complete contempt” after he declined to confirm whether his phone had been hacked.

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The SNP leader will appear before the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics on 13 June and told MSPs yesterday that he will wait until then to reveal whether his own phone was hacked, despite repeated calls from opposition leaders to clear up the confusion now.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday said Mr Salmond’s “cosy relationship” with News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch – who owned the News of the World – was coming ahead of the national interest.

At the Leveson Inquiry Rupert Murdoch revealed that Mr Salmond had offered to lobby UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt over Mr Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB.

He denied his newspaper’s backing of Mr Salmond had any bearing on that.

Questions were raised in the Scottish Parliament yesterday after it emerged at the weekend that Mr Salmond’s predecessor, Lord McConnell, and the SNP leader’s close aide, Joan McAlpine, are among the victims of hacking.

Mr Salmond also came under pressure to launch a separate Scottish investigation into phone hacking, like the Leveson Inquiry, with Labour leader Johann Lamont insisting during First Minister’s Questions it was time for a “proper inquiry” into phone hacking in Scotland.

But Mr Salmond said Strathclyde Police was already conducting a live investigation and that staging a Scottish Parliament inquiry could result in a “significant risk that a criminal investigation and criminal inquiry would be compromised”.

Mr Salmond’s reluctance to reveal whether he had been a victim was condemned by opposition leaders.

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Ms Lamont said afterwards: “The First Minister treated his party, the parliament, and the people of this country with complete contempt, refusing to answer questions and failing to justify his lobbying for Rupert Murdoch. Three times he was asked by three party leaders if his phone was hacked, three times he ignored the question, and he refuses to be held accountable for his actions.

“When a Nationalist leader is hiding behind an inquiry in London as a reason to resist calls for a parliamentary inquiry here in Scotland, then we really are through the looking glass.”

The Labour leader said: “The First Minister’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch is preventing any real scrutiny of News International’s activities in Scotland.”

The First Minister insisted that Leveson was the appropriate place to address the issue.

“I’ll be going to the Leveson Inquiry, I’ll be speaking specifically about a range of matters under oath and that’s where I shall give my evidence, which is exactly the right thing to do,” he said.

Mr Salmond added that the inquiry was “set up by cross-party agreement on a judicial basis”.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson had also pressed the First Minister to say if his phone had been hacked. “The First Minister of this country answers to this parliament,” she said.

“I don’t know whether it is arrogance, stubbornness or fear which has him continually refusing to answer legitimate questions over his conduct and that of his office. He says he is happy to speak to Leveson, but he refuses to speak to Scotland.”

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Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “The First Minister is responsible to this parliament. Why won’t he tell us if his phone has been hacked?”

He added: “A year ago the First Minister would have called Leveson a London-based court with a judge who has only been to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival. Now he says it’s the right place for a decision on Scotland.”

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg, who joined the Lib Dems’ local election campaign yesterday, said: “I’m slightly losing count of who Alex Salmond spends his time sucking up to. One moment it’s Rupert Murdoch, then it’s Donald Trump.

“He clearly has a fascination with very wealthy, very powerful men and is happy to trade with them in order to further his own political ambitions.

“I heard Alex Salmond trying to justify his strategy of ingratiation with Rupert Murdoch on the basis that it was for Scottish jobs. In fact the only job that he had in mind was his own.

“I think it’s time he puts the public and the interests of Scotland before his own cosy relationship with Rupert Murdoch.”

Mr Salmond has admitted that he was ready to lobby Jeremy Hunt in support of Mr Murdoch’s ill-fated attempts to take over BSkyB, claiming he wanted to safeguard jobs.

Strathclyde Police’s Operation Rubicon is looking into phone hacking in Scotland and claims of perjury at Tommy Sheridan’s trial for perjury in 2010.

The force confirmed recently that officers have visited a “number of people” in Scotland on behalf of the Metropolitan Police to notify them that they were potential hacking victims.