Alex Salmond trial on sex offence charges begins

Alex Salmond, the former Fist Minister of Scotland, the Holyrood parliament and Bute House, official residence of the First Minister, where some of the offences are alleged to have happened. Picture by Bill Heaney
By Democrat reporter 

BBC Scotland is reporting that the trial of Alex Salmond, who denies sexually assaulting 10 women while serving as Scotland’s first minister, has started.

The former SNP leader faces a total of 14 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh.

They include allegations of 10 sexual assaults, two indecent assaults, one attempted rape and an assault with intent to rape.

Mr Salmond says he is innocent, and has pled not guilty to all of the charges.

He has vowed to defend himself vigorously during the trial, and has lodged special defences of consent to four of the charges, and a special defence of alibi to a further charge.

The first witness in the trial is known as Woman H. Mr Salmond is accused of sexually assaulting her and attempting to rape her in 2014.

After Woman H confirmed her identity and that she was a Scottish government official, the trial was immediately adjourned for lunch.

The trial is being held before judge Lady Dorrian and a jury of 15 members of the public, which was selected on Monday morning.

The jury was earlier told by Lady Dorrian that the accused is a “very well known public figure” but they must reach a verdict based on “the evidence and nothing else” and that politics is “irrelevant”.

The trial is expected to last about four weeks.

It is alleged that the offences were committed at various locations across Scotland, including the Scottish Parliament and the first minister’s official Bute House residence in Edinburgh.

Mr Salmond, 65, was first minister of Scotland from May 2007 until November 2014, when he stood down in the wake of the country’s independence referendum.

What is Mr Salmond accused of?

The charges, which Mr Salmond denies, are set out in an indictment which includes the specific details of the allegations against the former SNP leader.

As with all sexual offence cases in Scotland, the media is not allowed to publish the names of the 10 alleged victims or any other information that could identify them, unless they give permission.

The alleged attempted rape is said to have happened in June 2014 at the first minister’s official Bute House residence in Edinburgh. He is alleged to have pinned Woman H against a wall and to have removed her clothes and his own, before pushing her onto a bed and lying naked on top of her.

The other 13 charges allege that Mr Salmond:

  • Indecently assaulted Woman A on a number of occasions in Glasgow in June and July 2008 by kissing her on the mouth and touching her buttocks and breasts with his hands over her clothing
  • Sexually assaulted Woman A in December 2010 or December 2011 in the Ego nightclub in Edinburgh by touching her arms and hips with his hands over her clothing
  • Indecently assaulted Woman B in October or November 2010 at Bute House by repeatedly seizing her by the wrists and repeatedly pulling her towards him and attempting to kiss her
  • Sexually assaulted Woman C in a car in Edinburgh in February 2011 by touching her leg with his hand over her clothing
  • Sexually assaulted Woman D on various occasions between 2011 and 2013 at Bute House, the Scottish Parliament and other locations by touching her buttocks with his hands over her clothing, stroking her arms, and touching and stroking her hair
  • Sexually assaulted Woman E at Bute House in October 2013 by removing her foot from her shoe, stroking her foot, lifting her foot towards his mouth and attempting to kiss her foot
  • Sexually assaulted Woman F at Bute House in November or December 2013 by kissing her on the mouth
  • Intended to rape Woman F in December 2013 at Bute House by causing her to sit on a bed, lying on top of her, making sexual remarks to her, touching her buttocks, thighs and breasts over her clothing with his hands, repeatedly kissing her face, struggling with her and pulling up her dress
  • Sexually assaulted Woman G in 2012 at the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow by touching her buttocks with his hand over her clothing
  • Sexually assaulted Woman G at Bute House in April 2014 by placing his arm around her, making sexual remarks to her and attempting to kiss her
  • Sexually assaulted Woman H at Bute House in May 2014 by placing his arm around her body, placing his hand under her clothing and underwear and touching her breast, repeatedly kissing her on the face and neck and stroking her leg with his hand
  • Sexually assaulted Woman J at Bute House in September 2014 by seizing her by the shoulders, repeatedly kissing her on the face, attempting to kiss her on the lips and touching her leg and face with his hand
  • Sexually assaulted Woman K at Stirling Castle in November 2014 by touching her buttock with his hand over her clothing

Mr Salmond says he is innocent of all the allegations against him, and has entered not guilty pleas to all 14 of the charges.

What will happen during the trial?

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Trial Judge Lady Dorrian.

The BBC states that the trial is being held at the High Court in Edinburgh before Lady Dorrian, who is the Lord Justice Clerk – Scotland’s second most senior judge.

A jury of 15 members of the public was selected before the trial begins. They will listen to the evidence and decide if the case against Mr Salmond – who is known as the accused – has been proven “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Unlike in some countries, there is no vetting process for potential jurors in Scots law so they cannot be rejected because of their political views, for example. There is also no need for the jury to be balanced between men and women.

There are no opening statements from lawyers and the trial began with Crown prosecutors calling witnesses, including the women who Mr Salmond is alleged to have sexually assaulted. They are known as the complainers.

The witnesses will be questioned by prosecutor Alex Prentice QC and Mr Salmond’s lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC – a former Scottish Labour MSP.

Once the prosecution case has ended, Mr Salmond and his legal team can decide whether or not to call any witnesses, which could potentially include Mr Salmond himself.

However, the accused is not obliged to offer any evidence in their own defence. This is because it is for prosecutors to prove that the accused is guilty rather than for the accused to prove they are innocent.

Defence lawyers can also argue at the end of the prosecution case that there is no case to answer, meaning that the evidence has not been strong enough to justify the accused being convicted by a jury.

If the judge agrees, the accused is acquitted before the defence case begins.

What verdicts can the jury reach?

Once the trial has finished, the jury will retire before reaching one of three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty or not proven.

This decision does not need to be unanimous, with only eight of the 15 jurors needing to be in agreement.

The not proven verdict is an unusual and highly controversial feature of the Scottish legal system which in practice is exactly the same as a verdict of not guilty. The accused is acquitted and is innocent in the eyes of the law.

If Mr Salmond is found guilty of any of the charges against him, it will be for the judge to decide what sentence should be imposed.

How long will the trial last?

The trial started on 9 March and has been scheduled to last for about four weeks – which would take it up to the first week in April.

However, this is only an estimate and the trial could last for a longer or shorter period of time.

Why are the alleged victims not being named?

The media – including online blogs and social media – are not allowed to reveal the name or any other information that could identify alleged victims of sexual offences, unless that person waives their right to anonymity.

This remains the case even if the accused is ultimately cleared.

As with all criminal cases, the media are also restricted by contempt of court laws and anyone who publishes or broadcasts anything that could potentially prejudice the trial – for example speculation about the guilt or innocence of the accused – can be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Again, these contempt laws also apply to blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Can the public attend the trial?

Yes, but as with all court cases it will be on a first come, first served basis. The courtroom holds 90 people but the majority of these spaces are expected to be taken up by the media. There may be room for about 30 members of the public but the exact number of spaces could fluctuate from day to day.

Members of the public are told to leave the courtroom before the complainers give evidence in sexual offences cases.  However, reporters are generally allowed to stay in court while the evidence is being heard.

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