Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say whether her husband had privately called for pressure to be put on police to investigate Alex Salmond, as she was accused of a “shabby abuse of power” for failing to order the release of evidence to MSPs.
The First Minister said it was not her place to confirm the authenticity of WhatsApp messages, apparently sent by her spouse and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, and leaked to the media and MSPs probing the Salmond affair.
In the messages, allegedly sent by Mr Murrell the day after Mr Salmond’s first court appearance on sexual harassment charges, he apparently said it was a "good time to be pressuring" police and “would be good to know Met looking at events in London.”
The second alleged message, sent 80 minutes later, says: “TBH [to be honest] the more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers. So CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] action would be a good thing.”
Mr Salmond was later cleared of 13 sexual assault charges at a trial in Edinburgh and he was never prosecuted south of the border.
On September 16th, I asked the SNP ahead of publication whether party chief executive Peter Murrell sent the Whatsapp messages on Alex Salmond.— Paul Hutcheon (@paulhutcheon) October 1, 2020
Still no response fifteen days laterhttps://t.co/f3S3ujs50t
Asked about the messages at First Minister’s Questions by Ruth Davidson , Ms Sturgeon angrily rejected calls to confirm whether they were genuine.
"I do not think it is reasonable for me to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done,” the First Minister said.
"Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions. Call me and I will answer for myself."
Ms Sturgeon has become embroiled in an increasingly bitter row with opposition MSPs over the probe into a botched investigation launched by her government into sexual harassment claims against her predecessor.
She previously claimed the Holyrood committee would have access to any documents it wanted linked to the affair. However, the Scottish Government is refusing to hand over legal advice it received about the civil case and other documents, with Ms Sturgeon now saying she has recused herself of decision making.
Mr Salmond challenged the fairness of the Scottish Government probe in court, winning the case and more than £500,000 in costs, before later being cleared of criminal charges.
While police are now investigating how the messages came to be leaked, Ms Davidson said there was nothing to stop Ms Sturgeon confirming if her husband had sent them.
She said: “Throughout this affair, the First Minister’s excuse has been that she can swap hats whenever it suits her: Nicola Sturgeon who leads the SNP is not the same person as Nicola Sturgeon who runs the Scottish Government. That is complete nonsense and hides the truth, which is the shabby abuse of power that this affair has revealed.”
The alleged messages from Mr Murrell will add weight to claims from Mr Salmond and his allies that he was the victim of a political conspiracy. Ms Sturgeon has dismissed the conspiracy claims as “nonsense”.
At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said she had already submitted substantial written evidence to the committee which it had not yet chosen to publish. She strongly rejected claims she had obstructed the inquiry.
She said: "I stand ready any time - today, next week, the week after that - to turn up at this committee and give evidence to it orally. I have not had an invitation to do that yet.
"It is a bit galling for me to hear, often members of the committee from the Conservative benches, somehow saying I am not answering questions.”