Salmond pulls appearance before Holyrood inquiry amid row over redacted evidence

Dramatic decision just hours before hearing due to take place

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Tuesday 23 February 2021 19:19
Nicola Sturgeon ready to tackle allegations at Alex Salmond inquiry ‘head on’

Alex Salmond will not appear before a Holyrood inquiry tomorrow following the Scottish Parliament’s decision to redact parts of his written evidence hours after he accused ex-allies of a ‘malicious’ effort to damage him.

The former first minister had been due to be questioned by a committee investigating the Scottish government’s handling of harassment allegations against him, which saw him awarded £512,000.

But he has now informed MSPs he will not attend the hearing.

Earlier his lawyers warned his appearance was in jeopardy as they demanded to know the legal justification for Holyrood’s decision to remove part of his submission from the parliamentary website.

It was later republished with redactions, despite the full version being in the public domain for approximately 16 hours.

“Our client’s submission was carefully reviewed by us and by counsel before submission,” David McKie of Levy and McRae solicitors wrote.

“There is no legal basis for the redactions that we are aware of which you now propose having gone through that extremely careful exercise.”

The redactions followed an intervention by the Crown Office, which oversees the prosecution of crime in Scotland.

Mr McKie said the sequence of events served to “reinforce” Mr Salmond’s fears about the action of the prosecution body.

He added: “We therefore require to see urgently the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations.

“These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow.

“As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission.

“He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said the redactions had been made “in line with representations from the Crown Office”.

He added: “We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “In all cases where the Crown becomes aware of issues of potential contempt, these will be considered carefully and action will be taken if considered appropriate.”

In his written evidence Mr Salmond names people he alleges were involved in a “malicious and concerted” attempt to remove him from public life.

Ms Sturgeon has previously challenged Mr Salmond to provide evidence for his claims during his appearance before the committee.

She said: “What we have not seen is a shred of evidence to back these wild claims up.

“Now, in front of the parliament, the burden of proof is on Alex Salmond.

“It is time for insinuation and assertion to be replaced with actual evidence.

“If, as I fully expect, there is no evidence, because there was no conspiracy, then people will draw their own conclusions.”

It is understood Mr Salmond could appear at a later date.