Spectator accuses Crown Office of 'clear-up job' amid claims more redactions of Salmond evidence required

The Spectator has accused the Crown Office of undertaking a “clear-up job” dictated by their “political masters” after the prosecution service intervened again around the publication of Alex Salmond’s submission to the Hamilton inquiry on the magazine’s website.

A submission by Alex Salmond to the harassment complaints committee was published on the Spectator website.
A submission by Alex Salmond to the harassment complaints committee was published on the Spectator website.

In a fiery article, The Spectator claims they were threatened to make “further redactions” to the former first minister’s submission, which was the centre of controversy in Holyrood last month.

The magazine adds it was also asked to remove the original text of the submission from an internet archive site by the Crown Office, accused the organisation of a “jackboot approach” to the free press.

The submission is question was subject to a court challenge by The Spectator who failed in their bid to get Lady Dorrian to specifically allow the Holyrood committee on the botched handling of harassment complaints by the Scottish Government to publish it unredacted.

It was also subject to controversy when a revised submission to the inquiry was published, then taken down, redacted, and republished following an eleventh hour intervention by the Crown.

It led to accusations of undue political influence over the prosecution body, an allegation flatly rejected by the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government.

In the article, the Spectator said that the Crown had sought further redactions to the Salmond submission, threatening fines if the magazine does not comply.

The magazine said: “We can now disclose that the Crown Office is doing a clear-up job, seeking to expunge remnants of Salmond’s evidence from the internet. It has ordered The Spectator to make further redactions to the Salmond submission.

"If we fail to comply, we have been advised that we could face penalties in excess of £50,000 (there is no cap), plus huge legal costs we would not recoup even if we win in court. It’s quite a risk, so we must consider removing Salmond’s evidence from our website.

“We take solace in the fact it has been available for all to read for many weeks now, and especially over the crucial period when Salmond and Sturgeon gave evidence to the Holyrood inquiry. This underlines the absurdity of the Crown Office’s jackboot approach to a free press, in pursuit of an agenda which suits its political masters.”

The magazine added that the Crown had also requested an archived version of the text was removed by the Spectator, seemingly unaware that the internet archive service it appears on is not controlled by the magazine.

The Spectator added: "Happily, the original text remains published by an internet archive service in California, which permanently stores internet pages.

"The Crown Office, as part of its clean-up operation, told us to delete this version too. Luckily this is not in our gift.”

This comes as MSPs continue to work on the final report from the Salmond Inquiry and as the Scottish Parliament awaits James Hamilton QC’s investigation into the potential breach of the ministerial code by Nicola Sturgeon.

A Crown spokesperson said: “Where the Crown becomes aware of issues of potential contempt of court, these will be considered carefully and action will be taken if considered appropriate.

“In all matters relating to the investigation and prosecution of Alex Salmond, and in subsequent issues, COPFS has acted with impartiality and fairness to apply the law professionally, independently and in the public interest.”

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