Trial told Sturgeon took part in meeting with complainant

Complainant gave no hint of ‘personal involvement’, Edinburgh high court hears

By Severin Carrell, Scotland editor of the Guardian

Salmond Alex at Papal massNicola Sturgeon took part in a meeting with a complainant and one of Alex Salmond’s former aides, a witness has told the high court in Edinburgh at the former first minister’s sexual assault trial.

Geoff Aberdein, formerly Salmond’s chief of staff, told the jury he met the complainant and the current first minister in Sturgeon’s office in the Scottish parliament on 29 March 2018.

Salmond, left, Sturgeon’s predecessor as first minister and Scottish National party leader, is on trial facing 13 charges including one of attempted rape, one of intent to rape, nine charges of sexual assault and two of indecent assault.

Salmond, who denies all the charges, was formally acquitted of a 10th sexual assault allegation on Monday after the charge was withdrawn by the prosecution.

Salmond told the court on Tuesday that the charges were fabrications and exaggerations. He said allegations from at least five complainants were orchestrated or exaggerated.

Giving evidence on the second day of Salmond’s defence case, Aberdein told the court he had two meetings with a complainant in early March. He said that at the second meeting, she told him there had been two retrospective complaints about Salmond.

Questioned by Gordon Jackson QC, Salmond’s lawyer, Aberdein said: “I think she was seeking to make me aware but also to see if Alex Salmond was aware of this, but I didn’t know and I hadn’t spoken to Alex Salmond for some time.”

Jackson asked: “Was there ever at any time from her the slightest hint that she was making a complaint about Alex Salmond’s behaviour?” Jackson asked him. Aberdein replied: “Never.”

As Jackson appeared to finish his questioning and walked towards his seat, Salmond leaned across in the dock and spoke to him quietly. Jackson returned to the lectern and asked Aberdein: “I’m reminded; tell me if I’m wrong. There was a meeting between you, [a complainant] and Nicola Sturgeon?”

Aberdein confirmed a meeting had taken place in Sturgeon’s office. Asked if that complainant had given “any hint of any personal involvement” in issues around the misconduct at a further meeting, Aberdein said “never”.

The court heard earlier on Wednesday from Samantha Barber, a company executive, that another complainant, H, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not present at a dinner with a celebrity at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh, in June 2014.

Salmond was charged with attempting to rape H after that dinner in an upstairs bedroom, after physically preventing her from leaving. She alleges Salmond was drunk, and stripped off his and her clothing before becoming aroused, and lying on her naked body. She also alleges Salmond sexually assaulted her at Bute House in May 2014.

Salmond denied her allegations on Tuesday and claimed instead they had a “consensual sexual encounter” in August 2013, which H initiated after both of them had been drinking.

The celebrity told the court via a video recording last week that H had been at the dinner on the night alleged, where they had shared a bottle of wine. Barber was asked by Jackson whether there were only three people at the dinner: herself, Salmond and the public figure. She replied: “That’s my recollection, yes.”

Jackson asked Barber if she remembered seeing H at any time that evening in Bute House. She replied: “No, I didn’t.”

Alex Prentice QC, for the prosecution, asked Barber several times why she had delayed talking to Police Scotland detectives who were investigating complaints against Salmond in late 2019 and earlier this year.

Prentice told the court she had told police she wanted to get advice from the law firm Levy McRae. Barber said she did not necessarily mean advice from lawyers. “I wanted to take advice because I didn’t understand the judicial process. [I] needed to understand the responsibility I had to the judicial process.”

The court also heard from defence witnesses who said they did not see alleged assaults at Stirling castle or during campaigning in Glasgow in 2008, despite being present at the time.

Another witness, Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, a former SNP MP, told the court that H had also been very angry Salmond did not support her in a career move.

The hearing continues.

Leave a Reply