Alex Salmond invited to give evidence to Holyrood inquiry

Alex Salmond invited to give evidence to Holyrood inquiry

Alex Salmond has been invited to give evidence to MSPs investigating the government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him.

However the former first minister’s lawyers have warned that he may not attend unless the government releases more papers about the case.

The inquiry committee wants Mr Salmond to come to Holyrood on 19 January.

But his lawyers say it would be “highly problematic” for him to attend without “the full evidence” being available.

They want the government to publish “key material” from its legal battle with Mr Salmond and the criminal case against him – which ultimately saw him acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault.

The government contends that it has provided thousands of pages of documentation – and that it has been prevented from disclosing some other papers due to objections from Mr Salmond’s legal team.

Mr Salmond took legal action against the Scottish government in 2018 over its handling of two internal harassment complaints against him.

The government eventually conceded its investigation had been “unlawful” and agreed to pay the former first minister £500,000 in legal costs, and a Holyrood inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong.

Mr Salmond has since become locked in an escalating public row with current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about her involvement, having accused her of misleading parliament and breaking the ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon has denied these claims, and has said she looks forward to giving evidence herself in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, the inquiry committee’s convener – SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – wrote to Mr Salmond to invite him to give evidence in person at Holyrood on 19 January.

However the committee also published a letter from Mr Salmond’s lawyers dated 8 January, which cast doubt on whether he will take up the invitation.

The letter from law firm Levy & McRae said Mr Salmond wanted to “cooperate fully” with the committee, but had been warned that he “would be committing a criminal offence” if he referred to material which was obtained from the government by his defence team during the High Court trial.

It said Mr Salmond – who previously said he was prepared to go to court to force the release of certain documents – could only give a “complete account” with this key material in hand, adding: “The idea that he gives evidence before that material is produced is highly problematic.”

The letter added that Mr Salmond has “an underlying health condition”, questioning whether it was realistic for him to give evidence in person during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ms Fabiani’s letter of 12 January sought to address the final point, saying they would give “high priority” to protecting his health and wellbeing.

She said the committee “appreciates that you would wish to access evidence from the criminal trial in order to go into more detail when you appear”, but said they had little time to complete their sessions before the Holyrood election.

The Scottish government has also been involved in lengthy exchanges with Mr Salmond’s lawyers about the release of documents, as well as an ongoing row with the committee about the release of legal advice.

Earlier on Tuesday, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans told the committee that “what the Scottish government can share, it has”, saying they would “provide the committee with as much material as possible”.

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