Nicola Sturgeon’s husband has been accused of giving "not credible" testimony to a Holyrood inquiry and Scottish prosecutors are facing mounting calls to investigate him for potentially lying under oath.
Peter Murrell, who is also the SNP’s chief executive, on Monday denied giving false statements to Holyrood's Alex Salmond inquiry during a previous hearing but was told it was “self evident” he had done so.
One MSP told him directly that they did not believe his claim that his wife kept him in the dark about an explosive meeting with Alex Salmond at the couple's home.
Watch: Scotland FM Nicola Sturgeon faces new questions over complaints about the Alex Salmond affair
He was also accused of making false claims about whether he had been at home during the meeting and about the existence of text messages he sent to other party officials about sex assault investigations facing the former party leader.
The 56-year-old told MSPs, who are investigating the unlawful civil service probe into the former First Minister, that he thought Mr Salmond was just “popping in for a chat” with Ms Sturgeon at their Glasgow home on April 2, 2018.
However, in her own written evidence, Ms Sturgeon said she suspected Mr Salmond wanted to see her because he was “facing an allegation of sexual misconduct” and was about to resign from the SNP.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, a Lib Dem MSP, said to Mr Murrell that it was “not credible” that Ms Sturgeon would not have shared her suspicions with her husband.
He added: “I really struggle with this… this was not run of the mill party business, this was potentially one of the biggest blows to befall your party in its history.
“I just don’t find it credible that she wouldn’t have discussed that with you as chief executive. Husbands and wives share things, partners share things. I’m sorry Mr Murrell, I just don’t believe it.”
Mr Murrell urged MSPs to ask his wife why she had not spoken about it with him when she appears next week.
The April 2018 meeting is crucial as it is when Ms Sturgeon claims she first became aware of the investigation against Mr Salmond, while he maintains she knew earlier. If it is established that Ms Sturgeon deliberately lied to Holyrood, she would be expected to resign.
Murdo Fraser, the Tory MSP, warned Mr Murrell that it was a criminal offence to give false evidence under oath, which committee witnesses are required to take, with a penalty of up to five years in jail.
He went on to challenge Mr Murrell over contradictory evidence he gave to the committee in December, when he initially said he was not at home during the April 2 meeting, only to later admit he came home during it.
Mr Murrell had also changed his story over whether he knew Mr Salmond was going to come to their house.
Mr Fraser said: “You have given this committee, under oath, two separate accounts of the meeting of April 2”.
Scottish Labour has previously called for Mr Murrell to face a perjury investigation after he denied the existence of text messages to party officials about the Salmond affair.
On Monday, he said he had been referring only to material that he considered relevant to the committee’s remit. Jackie Baillie, the party interim leader, accused him of “dancing on the head of a pin” and said he had made no such caveats during the earlier session.
Following the hearing, she said: “I trust that the Crown Office will fully investigate the possibility that Mr Murrell has made false statements to the committee.”
Mr Fraser added: “Mr Murrell has given false evidence to parliament under oath. I intend to write to the Crown Office to ask them to investigate the matter.”
Mr Salmond had been due to give testimony to the committee on Tuesday. However, he has pulled out in a row over the publication of his evidence which states Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.
Supporters of Mr Salmond, who successfully challenged the legality of the civil service probe into sexual harassment complaints against him in court and was later cleared of all 13 sex assault charges after a separate criminal investigation, have claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Ms Sturgeon said on Monday that she was looking forward to refuting "ridiculous suggestions" when she appears before the committee next week.
"In addition to answering all and any questions I will perhaps also get the opportunity to take head on some of the ridiculous suggestions that have been made about this whole situation," she said.
Meanwhile, following Mr Murrell's appearance, an extraordinary briefing war broke out between the Salmond and Sturgeon camps.
Sue Ruddick, the SNP's chief operating officer who Mr Murrell exchanged controversial texts with referred to at the hearing, revealed that she had reported "an act of physical aggression" against the former First Minister to police.
She said that messages between herself and Mr Murrell were "in no way relevant" to the committee's remit and accused MSPs of distressing and "bullying" complainants by seeking private communications.
However, within hours, Mr Salmond's camp released a statement from Anne Harvey, a former SNP staffer, who claimed she was the only other witness to the alleged assault incident.
She claimed Mr Salmond had merely "brushed past" Ms Ruddick on a stairwell while they were campaigning for the SNP in a 2008 by-election.
She added: "I can categorically confirm that there was no physical aggression on the part of Mr Salmond."
However, in response, Ms Ruddick claimed Mr Salmond had "called repeatedly to apologise" and that Ms Harvey was not there during the alleged incident.
Police Scotland said a report of common assault had been "thoroughly investigated" but no charges were brought due to a lack of corroborating evidence.
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