Former First Minister Alex Salmond told Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie that there should be a further police investigation into the leak of documents.
By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, Labour’s main spokesperson at the Salmond Inquiry raised the question of the interests and confidentiality of the complainers – the women who are alleged to have been assaulted by the former First Minister.
She said: “The issue arose in the context of one of the meetings that were held with the former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein, which was a precursor to your meetings with Nicola Sturgeon. Do you know whether the name of a complainant was shared at one of those meetings?”
When Alex Salmond said he did, Ms Baillie asked: “Can I ask how you know that, because we are obviously interested in evidence being corroborated, at this committee?”
Alex Salmond said: “I know because my former chief of staff told me that.”
When Jackie Baillie asked if anyone else knew that, Mr Salmond said: “You would have to ask the people concerned, but as far as I am aware, there are three other people who know that to be true.”
She then asked: “Sticking with the interests of the complainers, I will take you to the Daily Record leak. How were you notified of the Daily Record story on 23 August?”
Alex Salmond replied: “I will go through that day in sequence, because there is a bit more to it than the Daily Record story. If I remember rightly, on 23 August, I had a meeting with my legal team at Edinburgh airport. We were considering what to do and, basically, when to lodge our petition for judicial review, because we had had the decision from the permanent secretary—I think—the day before. We were meeting about how to respond and when to lodge the petition.
“We received a communication from the Scottish Government saying that it was going to make a press statement on the fact of the complaints at 5 o’clock, which I considered to be remarkable then, and which I consider to be even more remarkable now, because I now know that it—or at least a Crown Agent—was advised against any publicity by the police in a meeting two days previously.
“However, the Government was going to make a statement at 5 o’clock. Obviously, any hope of confidentiality in the process would have gone once that statement had been made, because the idea that the press would have just said, ‘There have been two complaints and we’re not going to report anything else’, would have been extraordinary to believe.
“We said, in return, that we would launch an interdict, along with the judicial review, in order to prevent that statement. The Government response was that it would withdraw the statement, therefore there was no need to launch our interdict. At roughly 4 o’clock, we were told by the Government that it had received a query from the Daily Record and was concerned that the Daily Record seemed to have knowledge of the complaints. However, the Daily Record did not come to us; therefore, if we had gone ahead with the interdict at that stage, given that we were interdicting a Government statement as opposed to interdicting the supposition of some newspaper, we might well have provoked the very thing that we were trying to avoid.
The Daily Record had either a copy of, or an extract from, the permanent secretary’s decision report, claims former FM Alex Salmond.
“However, the Daily Record came to us at about 8 o’clock, and emailed us at quarter past 8, to say that it had substantiation of its story. The phone call came to me. I said nothing in response, apart from “Put it in writing.” The Daily Record put it in writing and put the story out at 10 o’clock—that was its deadline.
“I released a statement saying that I was going to sue the Scottish Government. I held a press conference the next day, but the press conference did not talk about the nature of the complaints; it talked about the judicial review and why I thought that the Government was behaving unreasonably and unlawfully.
“What happened was that the next day there was another Daily Record story, which demonstrates that the Daily Record had either a copy of, or an extract from, the permanent secretary’s decision report, so someone had to have given the Daily Record that document. Subsequently, it has been confirmed that the Daily Record had a document—the whole report, or an extract from it.
“The permanent secretary [Lesley Evans] was asked about that in questioning, and she said that it had caused enormous distress to everyone concerned. I am absolutely sure that it did—to the complainants, to me, to everybody. The only question that I would have for the permanent secretary is this: notwithstanding the leak, what did she think would have happened if she had gone ahead and put out the statement at 5 o’clock on that day? I find it extraordinary.
“As you know, the Information Commissioner’s Office has investigated the matter. The prosecutor came to the conclusion that she was sympathetic to the idea that the source of the leak was within the Scottish Government, as she said. The Government’s internal review—it was not an investigation—identified 23 people who had access to the information. The ICO said that the leak was prima facie criminal—it was a criminal leak—but it had 23 suspects and no ability to go beyond that to determine who might be responsible for the leak. However, it said that it was sympathetic to the idea that it came from within the Scottish Government. Whoever did that should answer for what is a very, very serious matter, which caused enormous distress and the implications that followed.”
Ms Baillie asked: “How was that subsequently confirmed? Can you tell me what the evidence is?”
Mr Salmond replied: “There is no doubt that the Daily Record had the report, because the language is identical in the paper’s report to parts of the permanent secretary’s decision report. In the Kirsty Wark documentary last year, the editor of the Daily Record said that he had a document. The Daily Record has not, to my knowledge—certainly not, I would think—said anything directly to the ICO or any investigator, but the editor said that on the Kirsty Wark documentary. There is no question, though, that the Daily Record had the document, or part of the document, or an extract from it.
“There is one point of some confusion, which I certainly have not got to the bottom of yet, and that is that the ICO prosecutor’s report lists the various interested parties who have had copies of the report. For example, it lists the complainants and it lists me, and it comes to the not unreasonable assumption that neither the complainants nor I had any interest in leaking the contents of the report. It lists the Crown Agent. The police, of course, who some people suggested might be the source of the leak, refused to accept the report from the Crown Agent, so the leak could not have come from the police.
“The report lists the principal private secretary to the First Minister in that group of people. I must be absolutely correct here. I am not suggesting that the principal private secretary to the First Minister leaks things to the Daily Record, but when he came before this committee he confirmed first that he had—or had received on behalf of the office—a copy of the report; he subsequently wrote to the committee to say that that was not correct. My question is quite simple: why did the prosecutor for the ICO list the First Minister’s office in the list of interested parties who had access to the report? I do not know the answer—I just know that that was done, and I cannot believe that the prosecutor for the ICO did it for no reason There had to be a reason for believing that.
“My feeling is this. I am not saying that civil servants never leak; actually they seldom leak, and if they do leak, they do not leak to the political editor of the Daily Record. Therefore, I think that the leak was politically inspired—from whom it came should require further investigation. I think that the matter should not be at an end; it is a hugely serious matter.
“There is one thing I want to say, finally, on this. Over the past few months, there has been a major police operation in Scotland, ordered by the Crown Office, trying to find out who leaked information to Kenny MacAskill MP, which came to this committee. I know for a fact, because Mr MacAskill told me a day or so ago, that that investigation is still on-going, and is so at the expressed wish of the Crown Office. That has been made clear by the police to everybody whom they have interviewed—including me, incidentally.
“My question is this: where is the police investigation that was ordered by the Crown Office into what has been, for many of the people concerned—not least, the complainants—a hugely distressing leak to the Daily Record in August 2018? As far as I know, nothing has been done or said by the Crown Office in terms of trying to determine where that leak came from. There seems to be a disparity in the Crown Office’s attitude to criminal behaviour, as it sees it.
Jackie Baillie pursues her questioning: “May I pursue that very quickly? I am conscious of time. In your submission to us, you said: ‘I am confident that I know the identity of those involved in the leak.’ Do you have any evidence to support that, beyond what you have just told us? Are you suggesting that the matter requires further police investigation?”
Alex Salmond told her: “I think that the matter does require further police investigation. I believe that I know their identity, but I am not here at committee to speculate about individuals when I cannot substantiate that.
“For every statement that I make before the committee, I intend to have documentary evidence to support it—and to be restricted to that—but on your question about whether there should be police investigation of the matter, I think that there absolutely should be police investigation of the matter, because whoever leaked that document at that time caused enormous distress and certainly broke the law. Certainly, there have been huge consequences for all concerned as a result of that leak.”
Lib Dems will back no confidence motion unless legal advice is released
Meanwhile, comenting on the prospect of a no confidence vote in Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Liberal Democrats will support a motion of no confidence if John Swinney continues to flout the will of parliament.
“There is a simple way for John Swinney to avoid another no confidence vote and that is to release the legal advice as parliament has twice made very clear it expects him to do.
“The Scottish Government have gone out of their way to obstruct the investigation into their handling of some very serious allegations.
“This displays contempt for our parliament and a casual disregard for all those who have raised concerns or are considering whether to do so in the future.”