Salmond says evidence of plot to discredit him ‘will see light of day’

By Conor Riordan and Henry Vaughan, PA

Alex Salmond has vowed evidence of a plot to discredit him will “see the light of day” after he was acquitted of a string of sexual offences, including attempted rape.

The former first minister of Scotland thanked his supporters as he left court and said the ordeal of his arrest and trial was nothing compared to the “nightmare every single one of us in this country is living through” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was cleared of 13 charges by a jury following an 11-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

A charge that had originally been on the indictment was dropped earlier in the proceedings.

Mr Salmond had denied all the charges and giving evidence claimed some were “deliberate fabrications for a political purpose”.

The jury, which took less than six hours to reach its decision, returned not guilty verdicts on 12 charges and returned a not proven verdict on a charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.

Speaking outside court, Mr Salmond said: “Just over a year ago when we finished civil action, judicial review, I said I had great faith in the courts system of Scotland – that faith has been much reinforced today.”

He added: “There is certain evidence that I would have liked to have seen led in this trial but for a variety of reasons we were not able to do so.

“Those facts will see the light but it won’t be this day.”

During a procedural hearing of the case, reporting of which was banned until the end of the trial, Mr Salmond’s defence team claimed the Scottish Government and those working there turned to the criminal process to try to “discredit” him after he won a civil case into how the administration handled sexual harassment complaints against him.

Judge Lady Dorrian rejected an application for this evidence to be led at the trial, saying the judicial review was “wholly irrelevant”.

Mr Salmond thanked those who have sent him messages, his “brilliant” legal team and the court service, who he said have been “courteous beyond limit”.

The 65-year-old was first arrested and charged by Police Scotland in relation to the allegations in January 2019.

Alex Salmond elbow bumps his lawyer Gordon Jackson QC (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Before finishing his statement, he told those gathered outside the court to go home to stay safe from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “Whatever nightmare I have been in over these last two years, it’s as of nothing compared to the nightmare that every single one of us in this country is living through. People are dying – many more are going to die.”

Reacting to the verdict, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP and the Scottish Government face “serious questions” over the “national political scandal” that led to the Salmond trial.

Jackson Carlaw said the SNP faces ‘serious questions’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Carlaw said: “As we all know, Scotland is dealing with a much more severe challenge today than this high-profile court case.

“That said, there are now some very serious questions facing the SNP, the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon.

“The court case may be over but for them this is just the beginning.”

He added: “Clearly, there is still a lack of information which needs to be fully interrogated and the Scottish Parliament inquiry will provide that opportunity.

“This remains a national political scandal with profound questions of integrity for the First Minister and her SNP government.

“However, that opportunity must be deferred for the time being while all our efforts and resources concentrate on Covid-19.”

Scottish Labour’s equalities spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said the trial had been an “extremely traumatic time for all involved”.

She said: “The verdict of this trial does not take away from the serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s handling of this.

“We would expect questions about this to be fully explored during parliamentary scrutiny of this.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “The court has reached a verdict and that must be respected. I am a strong believer in a vigorous, robust, independent judicial process where complaints of this nature, if they come forward, are properly and thoroughly investigated, due process takes its course and a court reaches a decision, and that’s what has happened today.

“I have no doubt that there will be further discussion around this issue in due course, in the fullness of time – and I will welcome that. But that time is not now.

“This country faces a crisis right now bigger than anything we have faced before and as First Minister my duty to the public is to do everything I can to focus 100% on steering us through that crisis, and that is what I intend to do.”