SNP MSP calls for probe into Alex Salmond 'conspiracy'

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Mr Salmond walked free from the High Court on Monday after being cleared of all the allegations against him

An SNP MSP has said a judge should investigate claims that the Scottish government conspired to "do in" Alex Salmond.

A High Court jury cleared Mr Salmond of 13 sexual assault charges on Monday.

Alex Neil said allegations that the "organs of the state" conspired against Mr Salmond had been central to the former first minister's defence.

He said a judge-led inquiry was needed to establish whether the "very serious" claims of a conspiracy were true.

The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish government civil servants and officials.

During his evidence to the court, Mr Salmond said the allegations were "deliberate fabrications for a political purpose" and had been aimed at preventing him from making a political comeback.

Mr Neil told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "Clearly the allegation is that it was a conspiracy involving a number of people to do in Alex Salmond."

The former health secretary said he did not know whether there had been a conspiracy or not.

But he added: "If the organs of the state like the civil service, the Crown Office and government advisers were involved in any such conspiracy, that's a very serious matter.

"So my view is that, once the coronavirus crisis is over, there needs to be an independent judge-led inquiry to find out was there a conspiracy, if there was what was the conspiracy, who was involved and was there criminality involved in such a conspiracy."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Neil said the truth or otherwise of the "very serious" conspiracy allegations had to be established

Mr Salmond's defence team had claimed during the trial that a senior Scottish government official known as Woman A, who was one of his accusers, had contacted some of the other complainers before Mr Salmond was charged.

Speaking outside court after his acquittal, Mr Salmond said there was "certain evidence" that he had not been able to use during the trial but which would "see the light of day" after the coronavirus crisis had passed.

Prominent SNP MP Joanna Cherry, a close ally of Mr Salmond, has already said that the jury's verdict in the case raised "very serious questions" about the SNP and Scottish government handling of the complaints that were made against him.

And fellow SNP MP Kenny MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary, tweeted that "some resignations" were now required in the wake of Mr Salmond being cleared.

Media caption,
Alex Salmond gives his reaction to being cleared

The jury at the High Court in Edinburgh returned not guilty verdicts on 12 of the sexual assault charges faced by Mr Salmond, including one of attempted rape, and returned a not proven verdict on a further charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.

The charges were all alleged to have happened while Mr Salmond was serving as Scotland's first minister, with several alleged to have happened at his official Bute House residence in Edinburgh.

Mr Salmond was first minister between May 2007 and November 2014, when he stood down in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum and was replaced by Nicola Sturgeon.

The Scottish government admitted during a judicial review in January of last year that it had acted unlawfully while investigating sexual harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond by appointing an investigating officer who had "prior involvement" in the case.

Ms Sturgeon said on Monday that the jury's verdict in the case "must be respected", and that she would welcome the various inquiries that are already to be held into her government's handling of the allegations against Mr Salmond.

She added: "I have no doubt that there will be further discussion around this issue in due course, and I will welcome that, but that time is not now.

"This country faces a crisis right now that is bigger than anything we've ever faced before, and as first minister my duty to the public is to focus 100% on steering us through that crisis - and that is what I intend to do."

What did the trial hear?