‘It was political witch-hunt’: Alex Salmond accuses his enemies of ‘fabricating’ sex assault claims after he is cleared of string of charges
- Alex Salmond was yesterday cleared of sexually assaulting a string of women
- Ex-Scottish first minister maintained his innocence throughout high-profile trial
- He hinted evidence proving a witch-hunt against him ‘would see the light of day’
Alex Salmond said his ‘nightmare’ was over yesterday after he was dramatically cleared of sexually assaulting a string of women.
The former Scottish first minister had been accused of exploiting his power and influence to prey on women.
He maintained his innocence throughout the high-profile trial and claimed some of the charges were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’.
Alex Salmond as pictured above with the Queen in 2007, when he was First Minister of Scotland, at the ceremonial opening of the Scottish Parliament. In pre-trial hearings in January and February, the former first minister’s legal team argued that the criminal probe was orchestrated by current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s inner circle
Mr Salmond, 65, yesterday hinted that evidence proving there had been a witch-hunt against him ‘would see the light of day’ once the coronavirus pandemic was over.
Speaking outside the High Court in Edinburgh after the extraordinary 11-day trial, he thanked his family and friends for standing by him.
The former SNP leader, who brought Scotland to the brink of independence in 2014, added: ‘There is certain evidence that I would have liked to have seen in this trial but for a variety of reasons we were not able to do so. Those facts will see the light of day but it won’t be this day, and it won’t be this day for a very good reason. And that is, whatever nightmare I’ve been in over these last two years it is nothing compared to the nightmare that every one of us is currently living through.’
Alex Salmond (pictured above with wife Moira in 2012) said his ‘nightmare’ was over yesterday after he was dramatically cleared of sexually assaulting a string of women
During the landmark case, Mr Salmond, who now presents a chat show on the Kremlin-backed RT television channel, was accused of grabbing and groping women in plain sight.
He was also accused of luring them into his private quarters at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh, before trying to ply them with red wine, whisky, limoncello and a potent Chinese spirit called Maotai.
One government official, who can be identified only as Woman H, accused Mr Salmond of attempting to rape her in June 2014 in Bute House’s Connery Room – so called because Sir Sean Connery, a supporter of Scottish independence – had stayed there.
But after more than five hours of deliberation yesterday, the jury found him not guilty on 12 charges and returned a not proven verdict on a further charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.
In the Scottish court system, a not proven verdict has the same legal effect as an acquittal. Mr Salmond was arrested and charged by Police Scotland in January last year.
It came just over a fortnight after he celebrated winning a legal battle against the Scottish government over its ‘unlawful’ handling of an internal inquiry into sexual misconduct claims against him.
It can now be revealed Mr Salmond launched an extraordinary attack on his former colleagues in secret court hearings, accusing them of plotting against him after his legal victory.
In pre-trial hearings in January and February, the former first minister’s legal team argued that the criminal probe was orchestrated by current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s inner circle.
Mr Salmond, 65, yesterday hinted that evidence proving there had been a witch-hunt against him ‘would see the light of day’ once the coronavirus pandemic was over. Speaking outside the High Court in Edinburgh after the extraordinary 11-day trial, he thanked his family and friends for standing by him
Gordon Jackson QC, defending Mr Salmond, lobbied Judge Lady Dorrian for permission to argue that the politician was the victim of a Scottish government smear campaign.
He said key SNP and Civil Service figures had feared a major ‘scandal’ after Mr Salmond began a judicial review of the Scottish government’s inquiry.
In explosive text messages read out to the court – which could not be reported at the time for legal reasons – Mr Jackson said permanent secretary Leslie Evans, Scotland’s top civil servant, had texted a civil servant following the conclusion of the judicial review, saying: ‘We may have lost the battle – but we will win the war.’
Mr Jackson said a ‘huge amount of material’ had been obtained from a phone which had ‘been in the possession of’ SNP chief executive Susan Ruddick. He revealed that one of Mr Salmond’s accusers texted Miss Ruddick to say they were ‘currently convening [their] Spads [special advisers] for a council of war’.
Miss Sturgeon and her government are now facing multiple inquiries. Mr Salmond’s supporters said he was the victim of ‘a Machiavellian stitch-up’ and ‘resignations are now required’.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw added: ‘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. This remains a national political scandal.’
Miss Sturgeon said: ‘The court has reached a verdict and that must be respected. 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.’
Independent streak: Alex Salmond, Sean Connery and Nicola Sturgeon are pictured together above in September 2004
RICHARD PENDLEBURY: A cross between a Mafia don and Alan Partridge
By Richard Pendlebury for the Daily Mail
North of the border, he is known to opponents and supporters alike as Wee Eck – Little Alex.
In reality, there is nothing diminutive about Alex Salmond, be it his appetites, ambition, temper, political acumen or super-sized ego.
He long saw himself as a warrior statesman; the modern reincarnation of Robert the Bruce, victor over the English at Bannockburn, who would drive the rule of Westminster out of Scotland altogether.
This jowly, boozy, latter-day Bruce is not Holyrood’s own Harvey Weinstein, as was alleged. Even so, the fallout promises to be hugely damaging to his successor Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party which his leadership revitalised
In the referendum of 2014, Salmond came within a few percentage points of succeeding.
And there can be no denying that along the way he changed not only the political landscape of his native country but that of the whole United Kingdom.
He is a considerable figure by any reckoning. A hero to the nationalist cause.
Yesterday’s not guilty verdicts in Edinburgh preserve – to a degree – Salmond’s political legacy and personal reputation which would otherwise have been indelibly stained by convictions for sexual assault.
As the verdicts were announced Salmond remained impassive. He said simply: ‘Thank you, my lady’ when Judge Lady Dorrian said he was free to go.
This jowly, boozy, latter-day Bruce is not Holyrood’s own Harvey Weinstein, as was alleged.
Even so, the fallout promises to be hugely damaging to his successor Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party which his leadership revitalised.
While for him the acquittals are a victory, it is of the Pyrrhic variety. How he must seethe at the part played by his SNP proteges.
Hadn’t he alone carried the party from obscurity to within reach of the Holy Grail?
Alex Salmond (left) elbow bumps Gordon Jackson QC as he leaves the High Court in Edinburgh
He is not a sex fiend. But he has been foolish. Very foolish, as he admitted during the trial. During his seven years in residence at Bute House, Salmond, 65, turned the magnificent official home of Scotland’s first minister into a bachelor pad and drinking den.
Once asked at a press conference if he drank too much as first minister, Salmond replied: ‘I’m not a paragon of virtue by any means whatsoever and I’ve never claimed to be.’ Which is a long-winded way of saying ‘yes’.
He liked his whisky, but also enjoyed the finest French red wines and champagnes.
He was once seen drinking the latter at breakfast time in the first-class lounge at Heathrow. In short he preferred to live like a monarch of the glens, although it was alleged by witnesses at his trial that one of his favourite tipples at Bute House was the 53 per cent alcohol Chinese spirit Maotai.
Salmond admitted drinking the liquor with one of his accusers and then falling on to a bed in a ‘sleepy cuddle’. He later apologised to her, he said. In the witness box at his trial Salmond denied assaulting anyone.
In hindsight, he wished he had been ‘more careful with people’s personal space’. The jury agreed that in his behaviour towards nine women he had not crossed the line from inappropriate.
In evidence, Salmond said the allegations were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’ or ‘exaggerations’. He had ‘never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life’.
Those closest to Salmond have long been briefing that his now discredited prosecution was largely the result of a sustained campaign by Mrs Sturgeon’s team. They claimed she resented her mentor not leaving the political stage when she succeeded him as leader – and then embarrassing the SNP by hosting a chat show on the Kremlin-backed RT television channel
But what now for the two most important women in his life? First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is Salmond’s protege. He groomed her to be his successor.
In the past she has defended him against suggestions of sexism or misogyny, saying: ‘I’ve worked with Alex Salmond very closely for almost 30 years now, so he’s not sexist.’ One imagines it was said through clenched teeth.
There is plenty of photographic evidence of Mrs Sturgeon recoiling from another of her mentor’s touchy feely public welcomes and slobbery kisses.
Certainly, their relationship soured and is now beyond repair.
Those closest to Salmond have long been briefing that his now discredited prosecution was largely the result of a sustained campaign by Mrs Sturgeon’s team.
They claimed she resented her mentor not leaving the political stage when she succeeded him as leader – and then embarrassing the SNP by hosting a chat show on the Kremlin-backed RT television channel.
His off-colour one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival also displeased Mrs Sturgeon. A former Salmond adviser told the Mail: ‘Relations were pretty sour – but things got out of control. Nicola’s team were out to get Alex, and it did get pretty ruthless. An email went round the party asking if people had experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour and so on – it didn’t specifically mention Alex, but it didn’t need to.’
The other woman in Salmond’s life, of course, is one of the most enigmatic in British politics. Moira Salmond is his wife of almost 40 years.
Seventeen years older than her husband, she was also once his boss at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.
‘Being a political spouse is undoubtedly the worst job in the world,’ Salmond has remarked.
‘All the intrusion and irritation with absolutely none of the glory.’ But Moira was hardly ever seen during his glory years, preferring to spend her time at their home in rural Aberdeenshire rather than share the limelight at Bute House, 150 miles away.
Her husband might not have ended up in the dock if she had been closer at hand. She was there yesterday to see him cleared. For all that she has been his rock.
In his often comically self-congratulatory referendum memoir The Dream Shall Never Die, Salmond mentions his wife dozens of times: ‘Moira advises… Moira believes… Moira insists… Moira tells me… Moira approves… Moira allows me…’ ‘Moira is my life,’ he said on Desert Island Discs in 2011. ‘I have just been so lucky.’
Now in her 80s, she remains his staunchest supporter. Salmond joined the SNP while at the University of St Andrews studying economics and history.
On graduation he took up a civil service post as an assistant economist. It was there, aged 24, that he met Moira McGlashan, already in her 40s. They married in 1981.
Salmond’s biographer David Torrance says: ‘Everyone who knew either Alex or Moira at this time recalls them being a perfect match, while their… age gap was barely perceptible.’
His first big step up the political ladder came in 1987 when, while working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, he contested and won the previously Tory-held Banff and Buchan seat.
Within three years he was SNP leader. By the end of the century he was heading the official opposition in Scotland’s newly devolved parliament at Holyrood. He stepped down as SNP leader in 2000 following internal disputes and concentrated on his duties as head of the SNP group at Westminster.
But in 2004 he returned to lead the whole party once again, inviting Mrs Sturgeon to be his deputy. Now the momentum was with him.
In 2007, he won the keys to Bute House as First Minister of a minority government. In the 2011 election the SNP secured the first outright majority in the brief history of the Scottish Parliament.
This had been previously unthinkable. Was independence in sight? Certainly the Union had begun to creak. Something had to give. In 2012, Salmond signed an agreement with Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
This was the high-water mark of Salmond’s career. In Scotland – even beyond – he enjoyed a remarkable personal popularity. He was charismatic; a man of the people who liked golf, horse racing and Heart of Midlothian FC.
While for him the acquittals are a victory, it is of the Pyrrhic variety. How he must seethe at the part played by his SNP proteges. Hadn’t he alone carried the party from obscurity to within reach of the Holy Grail?
In public, charm came easily. But off camera Salmond could be domineering with a volcanic temper, deploying vicious sarcasm. His largely male entourage had to endure ‘rough treatment’ from their boss who often behaved in a manner more despotic than socialist.
Others recall vignettes of entitled behaviour. One columnist recounted an episode from the Scottish parliament restaurant: ‘Upon sitting down, the first minister regally held out his hands. An accompanying flunkey whipped out some hand sanitiser and reverently smeared it on to the sacred mitts of power.’ And so to the Salmond ego.
His referendum memoir is dotted with reminders that the SNP would not have got anywhere near the gates of independence without his leadership. The people loved him almost as much as he did.
At one rally, he notes ‘the crowd reaction….is according me rockstar status. Elvis Presley’s ancestor’s came from nearby Lonmay…’ Perhaps there was an underlying insecurity.
Aides likened first minister Salmond as a cross between Alan Partridge – the fictional radio and TV presenter famed for his cringe-making faux pas – and a Mafia don.
One former aide who spoke to the Mail but asked not to be named said: ‘Alex always felt like he had to ‘entertain’, or make people laugh- tell a story, or make a joke. But Salmond was often ‘way behind the curve’ in terms of acceptable ‘banter’ with colleagues.
‘We’d point out to him that people stopped talking about ‘blue movies’ in the 1970s,’ the aide said. Nor is he very self-aware. ‘Women… are rather favourable to my more restrained style,’ he observes in his book.
Salmond suffered another ‘Partridge moment’ when he took part in a television debate on Scottish independence with former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling. In the wings was Geoff Aberdein, Salmond’s chief of staff, who watched in despair as his boss floundered.
Salmond joined the SNP while at the University of St Andrews studying economics and history. On graduation he took up a civil service post as an assistant economist. He is pictured above visiting Pennan, Aberdeenshire in 1999
While Darling quizzed him on a ‘Plan B’ for an independent currency, Salmond sarcastically highlighted claims about driving on the right-hand side of the road, and an independent Scotland being more susceptible to attack from outer space.
Aberdein said: ‘People watching it thought, ‘Why is he talking about this? This is his moment to talk about independence. I thought, ‘we’re in trouble’.’ On September 18, 2014, the Scots voted 55-45 to reject independence.
The following day Salmond resigned as first minister and SNP leader. In 2015, he was voted back into the House of Commons but lost his seat in the 2017 snap election – to a Tory.
In January 2018, the Scottish government received two sexual misconduct complaints about Salmond dating back to 2013. Salmond and Mrs Sturgeon spoke face to face or by phone about the matter, several times in the following months.
He denied the allegations and that August resigned his membership of the SNP and challenged the Scottish government’s processes. The police launched a formal investigation into his behaviour.
In January last year, Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session, ruled that the Scottish government’s inquiry into the complaints against Salmond was unlawful and was ‘tainted with apparent bias’.
Salmond was awarded full costs and suggested he would sue the administration he once led. But within days he was charged with alleged sex attacks against ten women.
Yesterday a jury accepted Salmond’s denials. Wee Eck is back on the front foot.
Nicola Sturgeon might find that the man who was once her mentor could become her destroyer.
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