Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell denies taking part in a ‘plot’ against Alex Salmond
Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, was asked to explain a series of text messages he sent the day after Alex Salmond was charged
Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, was asked to explain messages he sent to another SNP official the day after Mr Salmond was charged with a string of sexual offences.
Another said “the more fronts he is having to firefight on the better”, describing any further action by the Crown Prosecution Service in England as “a good thing”.
Mr Salmond, who has always denied any criminality, was eventually cleared of all charges, while the Metropolitan Police in London also dropped its separate investigation.
Giving evidence to MSPs at Holyrood investigating how complaints against Mr Salmond were handled by the Scottish Government, Mr Murrell said he could see how the texts could be misinterpreted and that he regretted his choice of language.
‘Shocked by scale of charges’
“I had been working with Alex for 30 years at that point and I think we were all shocked by the scale of the charges that were being brought against him,” he added.
“Reflecting on these message now, they seem quite out of character. To me it suggests just how upset I was at the time.”
Asked if the messages suggested he was part of “a plot to ensure the downfall of Alex Salmond”, he replied: “It’s not true. Of course it’s not true.”
Mr Murrell was also asked about his knowledge of two meetings that his wife had with Mr Salmond at their house in Glasgow in 2018, where they discussed the allegations.
He initially said he “wasn’t at home at either meeting”, but later clarified that he had in fact arrived back home while the first meeting, on 2 April, was still going on.
In his written evidence to the committee, he said he had “the sense that something serious was being discussed” but that he had never spoken to his wife about it.
Asked why this was, he replied: “Scottish Government business is not for me…every single day Scottish Government business is not relayed to me on a daily basis. We just don’t talk about government business.”
“In terms of what action the party could take – there is none, because the ultimate sanction is expulsion, and he had left. So there’s no action the party could take with those complaints,” he said.
Government or party business?
Peter Murrell contradicted his wife’s claim that her meetings with Alex Salmond to discuss sexual harassment allegations were a party matter.
The SNP chief executive told MSPs that he and Nicola Sturgeon had never discussed the content of the meetings because they were “a Scottish Government matter”.
But in her submission to the same Holyrood committee, she said her evidence related to “my actions in a party/personal capacity” rather than as the First Minister.
She also told MSPs in January last year that her meetings with Mr Salmond were part of her “responsibilities as leader of my party” and that she “took part in that capacity”.
Ms Sturgeon also did not declare the meetings to her private office, which under the ministerial code should have been done if they related to Scottish Government business.
The First Minister has referred herself for a misconduct inquiry over her involvement in the investigation into Mr Salmond, which will examine whether she broke the ministerial code.
The code also states that a private secretary or official should be present for all discussions relating to government business, but Mr Murrell said his wife and Mr Salmond were talking in a separate room from their officials.
Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative spokesman on the Salmond inquiry, said: “The SNP chief executive has sunk Nicola Sturgeon. He has directly contradicted the First Minister.
“Peter Murrell’s words indicate that Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament, gave false evidence to the committee and broke the ministerial code.”
Speaking after the Chief Executive of the SNP, Peter Murrell, appeared in front of the Salmond Inquiry Committee, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, pictured left, said: “Every couple in Scotland will share the stresses and strains of their working day over dinner or before putting the lights out.
“The suggestion that Nicola Sturgeon gave her husband no warning of the what was potentially the biggest threat to their party in its history, and a head start on bracing the party for impact is wholly implausible.
“She was worried that Salmond was about to resign from the party at the 2nd of April meeting, she attended as much in her capacity as leader of the party. Normal practice would have seen her ringing alarm bells within the party high command. Mr Murrell’s appearance undermines both of their accounts as to Nicola Sturgeon’s role in all of this.”