Scotland’s golden media couple were drawn further into controversy yesterday after Strathclyde police confirmed they had opened an investigation into alleged data theft and industrial espionage by Kirsty Wark and her husband, Alan Clements.
The inquiry threatens to embroil the Newsnight presenter in a legal fight between Mr Clements and his former business associate Hamish Barbour, who is married to another Scottish television personality, Muriel Gray.
Last week, Mr Clements admitted in court that he had tried to find out what former colleagues were saying about him by asking his then personal assistant, Janice McKnight – who now works for Ms Wark – to hack into their emails.
The public feud has added to the woes of RDF, the independent film company that made headlines in the summer after one of its staff edited some documentary footage to make it appear that the Queen had stormed out of a photoshoot.
RDF wants to put “golden handcuffs” on Mr Clements to delay his move to a rival company. They claim he is breaching his contract. Mr Clements says he was constructively dismissed by RDF.
The case arises from a £14m deal signed two years ago, when RDF bought the independent company, IWC, that had been formed in 2004 by merging two companies, Wark Clements and Ideal World, which was co-owned by Hamish Barbour and Muriel Gray.
One of Wark Clements’ most famous productions, at least in Scotland, was a documentary series commissioned by the BBC into the construction of the Scottish Parliament building. The company was paid £820,000 to make the programme. The building itself cost £400m, and provoked widespread criticism.
Ms Wark was a good friend of Donald Dewar, who led Scotland in the first years after devolution, and of one of his successors, Jack McConnell. She was also a member of the Scottish parliament building design selection panel. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, claimed that critics of the building project were prevented from |appearing on the Wark Clements documentary. To some people, it sounded too much like members of a cosy “Scots mafia” looking after one another.
Although Ms Wark and Ms Gray severed their links with IWC after it was bought by RDF, the new owners expected the takeover to cement a productive working partnership between the two husbands of Scotland’s best-known women broadcasters. Mr Clements and Mr Barbour appeared together in mid-March.
But, on 30 March, Mr Clements announced he was leaving to become head of content for the Glasgow based Scottish Media Group, which owns the STV and Grampian franchise.
To say that Mr Clements’ colleagues at IWC were unhappy with the news would be an understatement. Their feelings erupted in a briefing given to Ken Symon, business editor of the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald. The briefing was described in court last week, by Mr Clements’ lawyer Aiden Casey, as “insulting and vitriolic”.
Mr Symon was told Mr Clements had made £2m out of the RDF deal and, in return, entered into an agreement not to work for any competitor for three years, until December 2008. “If you take the money then you do the bloody job,” one of his colleagues said. “It’s just very dishonourable.”
That and earlier newspaper reports convinced Mr Clements that someone connected with RDF was running a campaign to blacken his name, which RDF denied. He also decided that if he could find the evidence, he would have a case against RDF for constructive dismissal, freeing him from the clause.
He asked Janet McKnight, a friend and former secretary who works for Ms Wark, to access emails of former colleagues, including Mr Barbour. She apparently knew the password to Mr Barbour’s email. Mr Clements denies acting “dishonourably”.
In court, Mr Clements was warned that procuring private information is an offence, and that he was entitled not to answer certain questions to avoid self-incrimination.
He will have to wait for the judge’s ruling to find out when he can begin work at SMG. The judge said it will be delivered by Christmas.