SNP messages alleged to prove conspiracy against Alex Salmond 'turned out to be mince'
Messages billed as key to proving the existence of a “malicious effort” from senior figures in the SNP to damage Alex Salmond’s reputation and have him imprisoned show nothing of the sort, a Salmond inquiry source has claimed.
The material handed over to Holyrood’s harassment complaints inquiry by the Crown Office last week is at the heart of claims of a conspiracy against the former first minister.
Several high-ranking SNP figures, including the chief executive and Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell, were named by Mr Salmond as having engaged in the conspiracy to damage his reputation.
In his evidence to the committee, Mr Salmond said the messages substantiated the allegation of a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.
However, a source with knowledge of the content told The Scotsman the messages “turned out to be mince” and claimed Mr Salmond’s interpretation of them could be due to a bruised ego.
They said the messages were not kind to Mr Salmond, but provided no evidence of a conspiracy against the former first minister.
The source said: “The committee has been dedicated to following every possible lead in this inquiry.
“Mr Salmond put high store in us finding some elaborate conspiracy in these text messages, but really they turned out to be mince.
"They are actually just private conversations that we probably had no business intruding on."
It is understood the committee is considering whether to publish the messages, which include those around the “pressurising the police” text sent by Mr Murrell – a move the source said would likely help the SNP chief executive rather than hurt him.
It is the second time key messages have been passed to the committee by the Crown Office.
In February, messages seen by the committee were deemed "not relevant to the committee’s work”.
During his evidence session, Mr Salmond had described the moment he read the messages as “one of the most distressing days of my life”.
He said: “We went through a series of messages. It was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. I am not allowed to describe the messages in any detail, but let us say that I recognise the one that you have just read out.
"There are many other messages and what they speak to is behaviour that I would never have countenanced from people I had known, in some cases, for 30 years.
“There has been behaviour that was about not only pressurising the police – like the one that you read out – but about pressurising witnesses and collusion with witnesses.
"We are talking about the construction of evidence, because the police were somehow felt to be inadequate in finding it themselves.”
The Salmond inquiry is also considering whether to issue a third section 23 notice to the former first minister’s legal team in the hope of gaining access to key government documents.
The botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond led to a £500,000 legal bill after the government conceded a judicial review challenge on grounds the process was “tainted by apparent bias”.
Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial last year.
Responding, a spokesperson for Mr Salmond said for the committee to be certain of the truth, they should serve a section 24 order to his legal team at Levy and McRae.
The spokesperson said: “We have no knowledge of what messages have been given to the committee by the Crown Office.
"However, if the Parliament serves a section 24 upon Alex’s solicitors covering the terms of these messages, then they shall be provided along with six other streams of evidence, which relate to recent evidence heard before the committee.
"If the committee is genuinely seeking the truth, then it is time to serve the section 24 order for which we have been awaiting for almost two weeks.
“It is worth recalling that in his evidence session, Alex suggested that the-then unpublished external government legal advice would show that ‘on the balance of probability’, the government were told they would lose.
"Now that it has been published, Alex’s words have been shown to be a dramatic understatement.”