The Hacked Off campaign spoke out last night as new documents released to the Leveson Inquiry show that the First Minister pointedly called on UK ministers to ensure any evidence of criminality in Scotland was handed over to legal authorities.
Last week, he told the inquiry he believed himself to be a victim of press abuses, saying he had been told the Observer newspaper had sought to hack into his bank details to seek financial details.
The spokesman said subsequently that the inquiries by the paper in 1999 may have been “connected” to “baseless” claims that the First Minister had racked up gambling debts as a result of horse racing.
But, the spokesman added, Salmond was not minded to go to the police with the claims, saying it was for the newspaper to make inquiries to establish whether the claim was correct.
A spokesman for the Hacked Off campaign said last night: “I would say that if there is evidence of criminality by any newspaper then any person should report that to the police.
“It doesn’t matter which newspaper it is, whether it’s the Observer or the Guardian or the Sun. If someone has accessed your bank details or email or whatever, then you should go to the police.”
The pressure on Salmond to hand over evidence follows the publication of a letter he sent to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt last year. In it, he is seen urging Hunt to ensure that if the inquiry uncovers any evidence of criminality which affects Scotland, then it should be immediately be given to authorities here.
In the letter, written in July 2011, he declared: “I would like to make it clear that the Scottish Government believes it is important that any issues uncovered (in the Inquiry) which present a matter for consideration under Scots Law and the Scottish justice system should be handed over as soon as possible to the appropriate Scottish authorities for investigation.”
He added: “It is of crucial importance that the inquiry is conducted in a manner which protects the integrity of police investigations and any potential prosecutions which may follow”.
Giving evidence on Wednesday last week, Salmond was asked whether he had had his phone hacked. He replied that he had not been told this was the case, but then went on to reveal details of how he had been the subject of press intrusion
He said: “I was informed by a former Observer journalist, who gave me a fairly exact account of what was in my bank account that could only be known to somebody who had seen it.”
Salmond said he had been told the newspaper even knew he had bought a gift from a toy shop in Linlithgow, which the journalists had seized on in the hope this was “more than a conventional toy shop”.
He added: “The point I’m making is the person concerned had detail which could only have been known by somebody who had full access to my bank account at that stage.
Asked if the source was former Observer columnist Alex Bell, now a Scottish government special adviser, Salmond’s spokesman said that he had “nothing to add” and added that the First Minister intended to “respect the confidentiality” of his informant.
A spokesman for the First Minister repeated last night: “The First Minister’s current view is that it is the responsibility of the newspaper to properly investigate this matter, and to accept that they were engaged in such activities.”
Dean Nelson, editor of the Observer in Scotland in 1999, was unavailable for comment last night.