Refusal to permit Alex Salmond inquiry witnesses unacceptable, warns committee

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has been accused of “unacceptable” obstruction of the Alex Salmond inquiry after refusing to allow two Government witnesses to give evidence.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

John Swinney has blocked two witnesses from appearing next week before the Holyrood committee probing the Government’s botched investigation of sexual harassment

allegations against the former first minister, provoking further ire from MSPs.

The committee had wanted to question Judith Mackinnon, the investigating officer whose prior contact with two of Mr Salmond’s accusers caused the Government investigation to

be ruled “unlawful” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

Ms Mackinnon has previously appeared virtually before the committee but the Scottish Government requested that only the audio evidence was available to the public.

The committee had also asked the Government’s workforce director, Gillian Russell, to give evidence on Tuesday.

But Mr Swinney has written to the committee to refuse the requests, claiming it could create an “unacceptable risk” of potential identification of complainers in the court case

against Mr Salmond.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March.

The court case followed a legal battle in which he was awarded more than £500,000 when the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled a Scottish Government investigation into his

conduct was unlawful.The Deputy First Minister said the Government is still attempting to agree with Mr Salmond’s lawyers what evidence can be released, so cannot provide “uncontested documents, a

timeline and a statement” about the Government’s handling of the complaints.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Swinney argued allowing the witnesses to give either written or oral evidence could “inadvertently breach either the undertaking or the court order

preventing jigsaw identification of the complainers”.

Mr Swinney wrote: “Having carefully considered the balance of those risks and the other possible mitigation that could be put in place with the requirement to comply with the

committee’s legitimate request to take evidence from these witnesses, I have concluded that agreeing to these witnesses appearing on November 24 would create an unacceptable

risk and therefore I cannot agree to the committee’s request.”

He added that he will consider whether to allow the witnesses to appear in future if an agreement is reached with Mr Salmond’s legal team.

In reply, committee convener Linda Fabiani said: “I find it unacceptable that you are now writing to the committee to say that the Scottish Government does not agree to two of its

civil servants giving evidence to the committee at its meeting next Tuesday because the Scottish Government has not produced a timeline and statement to accompany

documentation.

“While the committee appreciates that no witness should be put in a position where they might inadvertently breach a court undertaking or court order, it is the Scottish Government

which has put its own employees in this position.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “This is nothing short of an outrage.

“The secrecy and obfuscation of the Scottish Government knows no bounds.

“The worst of this latest episode is that John Swinney is blaming the lack of written evidence for the non-appearance of these witnesses, when he is the one that is withholding the

evidence. You really couldn’t make it up."

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