Alex Salmond appears in court on sexual assault charges

Severin Carrell Scotland editor
Alex Salmond appears in court on sexual assault charges. Former first minister faces 14 charges, including attempted rape, against 10 women

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s former first minister, is to go on trial early next year charged with a series of alleged sexual assaults and an attempted rape against 10 women.

Salmond, 64, appeared at the high court in Edinburgh on Thursday charged with 14 offences, including an attempted rape, one intent to rape, 10 sexual assaults and two indecent assaults allegedly committed while he was the first minister and the Scottish National party leader.

The attempted rape in 2014 and a separate assault with intent to rape in 2013 are alleged to have taken place in a bedroom at Bute House, the Georgian property in Edinburgh’s new town used as the official residence of Scotland’s first ministers.

Under the attempted rape charge, he is accused of stripping off a woman’s clothes, pinning her against a wall and blocking her path, before forcing her on to a bed and trying to rape her.

The alleged offences span a six-year period from June 2008 to November 2014, and include incidents alleged to have taken place at the Scottish parliament, in a ministerial car, at the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow and a nightclub in central Edinburgh.

Salmond, of Strichen, in Aberdeenshire, sat in the dock for a brief procedural hearing before Lady Dorrian, the lord justice clerk, wearing a suit and a tie with saltires. He was flanked by two court security officers but did not speak. The trial was fixed for 9 March 2020 and is expected to take four weeks.

Outside court, with his sisters Gail and Margaret standing behind him, Salmond told the media he was pleading not guilty to all the charges and would defend himself vigorously.

“I’m not permitted to say too much today, save that we’ve lodged our defence statement in the court and plead not guilty to all charges. We’re also in the midst of a general election campaign and I’m not going to say anything that would influence that process,” Salmond said.

He cited his successful civil court case against the Scottish government last year, when the civil service admitted it had botched an internal inquiry into two harassment complaints made against him by female officials.

“We’re now into our second year of court actions, first civil and now criminal. It’s over 10 months since we won the civil action. I’m innocent and will defend my position vigorously. But the only proper place to answer criminal charges is in this court and that’s exactly what we intend to do next spring.”

Salmond first appeared in private at Edinburgh sheriff court in January charged with 14 offences, including two attempted rapes, nine charges of sexual assault, two of indecent assault and one breach of the peace. The second attempted rape charge and the breach of the peace charge no longer appear on the indictment.

He is being represented by one of Scotland’s most senior defence advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, a former Labour MSP who is also dean of the faculty of advocates, the profession’s supervisory and representative body. The prosecution is being led by Alex Prentice QC, one of Scotland’s most respected prosecutors.

The new indictment details alleged offences taking place in Baillieston, Glasgow, in 2008; at a nightclub in central Edinburgh in 2010 or 2011; a car travelling from Holyrood Road, the site of the Scottish parliament, to Waverley station in Edinburgh in 2011; at the Scottish parliament various times between 2011 and 2013; at Stirling Castle in late 2014; and at the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in the west end of Glasgow in 2012.

Nine of the charges relate to a series of alleged offences at Bute House, which Salmond used as his residence in Edinburgh from when he became first minister in May 2007 until his resignation as SNP leader after losing the independence referendum in September 2014.

The allegations of assault and attempted rape at Bute House, which are offences under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, have been brought by seven women. The maximum penalty for attempted rape and for sexual assault under the act is life imprisonment.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said she would not comment on her predecessor’s court appearance or the charges against him but said the allegations would not have any impact on the general election.

“This is an ongoing criminal trial and it would just not be appropriate in any way, shape or form to make any comment on that while the trial is ongoing and before it reaches a conclusion,” she said.

“The only thing I would say as first minister and as an ordinary citizen is that my only interest is in seeing justice done, whatever that may be. But that is a matter for the courts.”