Alex Salmond declines Holyrood inquiry invitation

Alex Salmond declines Holyrood inquiry invitation

Alex Salmond has declined an invitation to give evidence next week to MSPs investigating the government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him.

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

But the former first minister’s lawyer said he could not accept the invitation – although he would be willing to appear on 16 February instead.

The committee has not yet responded to the request for the delay.

In a letter to committee convener Linda Fabiani, lawyer Davie McKie said the parliament’s presiding officer had advised against all in-person committee meetings because of Covid.

He said: “Our client feels very strongly that it would send a very bad message to the rest of the country if he were to flout that, particularly at a time when the present first minister is set to further tighten restrictions on everyone else”.

Mr McKie said there had been “substantial difficulties” when the committee attempted to hold a remote evidence session with the Scottish government’s top civil servant, Leslie Evans.

His letter said: “Our client understands your anxiety to finish your hearings and therefore we can suggest 16 February (in principle at this stage) for an in-person evidence session.

“That will give the clerks time to work out the feasibility of a safe hearing in light of the review of lockdown due at the end of the month and to recover the further material evidence.

“Assuming you still want to call the first minister the week after our client then, as we understand it, the parliamentary timetable would still give a full month for the committee to agree and publish a report to parliament”.

Mr Salmond’s lawyers have previously told the committee that he had an underlying health condition which increased the risk of Covid.

And they have also said it would be “highly problematic” for him to attend the committee 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.

In a separate letter to the committee last week, they insisted that he wanted to “cooperate fully”, 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 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.

Ms Fabiani has previously sought to assure Mr Salmond that the committee would give “high priority” to 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.

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