MSPs in new row with officials over release of Salmond documents

·2 min read
Once close allies, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have fallen out  - Jane Barlow/PA 
Once close allies, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have fallen out - Jane Barlow/PA

MSPs investigating how complaints of sexual misconduct against Alex Salmond were investigated by civil servants have become embroiled in a new row with officials after they refused to hand over key documents.

The Scottish Government cited legal privilege in withholding advice it received regarding Mr Salmond’s successful court challenge to the internal government probe against him, which resulted in him being awarded more than £500,000 in legal costs.

A Holyrood committee is investigating the botched investigation, after the Scottish Government's actions were found by a judge to have been "unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair" and had been "tainted with apparent bias".

Mr Salmond was subsequently charged by prosecutors with 14 counts of sexual assault, but was cleared of all charges.

The Holyrood committee is examining the Scottish Government investigation and has requested several documents. However, officials said yesterday that some information could not be released as it concerned legal advice and was therefore legally privileged.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Liberal Democrat MSP and a member of the committee, called for the information to be provided.

He said: “This evasiveness on the part of the Scottish Government does not serve them, or the people of Scotland, well.

"This saga has already cost the taxpayer more than £500,000. It is a slap in the face to not allow the parliamentary inquiry access to unredacted versions of these documents.

"The First Minister should acknowledge where the public interest lies and order unredacted versions of these documents to be handed over."

While it is a convention that legal advice is not released, this is not binding. The committee is to start taking evidence this month. Among those who will be called are Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, who is the SNP’s chief executive, as well as Mr Salmond.

The former First Minister believes there was a plot against him, something dismissed as “nonsense” by Ms Sturgeon. The pair, once close, have fallen out spectacularly since the allegations against Mr Salmond emerged.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We remain committed to working with the committee.

"We welcome the opportunity the parliamentary inquiry will bring to address issues which have been raised - and we will not pre-empt that process.

"We are providing all the relevant information requested by the committee, taking account of the confidentiality, data protection and other restrictions that apply."

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