Alex Salmond case: Holyrood inquiry 'more traumatic than trial'

Complainant says inquiry has made it harder for women to come forward

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond was tried in March 2020 on 14 charges of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape, and acquitted of every charge at the high court in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
Alex Salmond was tried in March 2020 on 14 charges of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape, and acquitted of every charge at the high court in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
Scotland correspondent

Last modified on Mon 15 Feb 2021 00.13 EST

A woman who made sexual assault allegations against Alex Salmond has described the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s botched handling of initial complaints as “in many ways more traumatic” than the trial itself.

The woman was one of nine who gave evidence against the former first minister when he was tried in March 2020 on 14 charges of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape, and acquitted of every charge at the high court in Edinburgh.

A Holyrood committee is now investigating the Scottish government’s handling of the original complaints that he sexually harassed two officials. A judicial review of the process, brought by Salmond, found it was “tainted with apparent bias” in January 2019.

In an interview with BBC Scotland’s newly launched The Sunday Show, the woman said she believed the committee’s conduct had made it “significantly harder” for others to come forward with similar complaints.

Addressing directly claims by Salmond and his supporters that the charges resulted from a conspiracy driven by figures close to Nicola Sturgeon, she said: “It is utterly absurd to suggest that nine women could be persuaded to lie to the police, to perjure themselves in court. The truth is that we individually had experiences of Alex Salmond’s behaviour.”

Salmond admitted in his own evidence at trial that he should have been “more careful with people’s personal space”, while civil servants told the court they tried to reinforce the practice of not allowing female officials to work alone with him.

Instead of the impartial investigation she had hoped for, the woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – told BBC Scotland’s political editor Glenn Campbell that she believed it had descended into a “political fight”, and that the row “effectively allowed the government to get away with not being properly scrutinised on its procedures”.

And she added that the inquiry had been “in many ways more traumatic than the experience of the high court trial”.

The woman told Campbell: “What has happened is they have taken your very personal experiences and exploited them for their own self-serving political interests, and that is something in itself that is really traumatic.”

She added: “I think that they really had an opportunity to ensure they could investigate the creation of procedures that would make it safe and easy for women to come forward, and they have made it significantly harder.”

Responding to the interview, Scottish National party MSP Linda Fabiani, the committee convener, said that she would like to issue a personal apology for anything that had made any complainant feel like they had been exploited.

She accepted that the process had “become more political than it should”, but that she hoped to make recommendations “that will be taken on board to protect women in the future”.

The committee is now battling to break the deadlock over publication of evidence that Salmond says is an essential part of his case alleging that Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. The former first minister refused to attend in person last Tuesday after the committee voted narrowly against publication, for legal reasons.

But on Thursday, the senior Scottish judge Lady Dorian agreed to amend a court order she imposed on what could be reported about Salmond’s criminal trial after a legal challenge by the Spectator.

On Friday, the committee again postponed Sturgeon’s evidence session – which her spokesperson described as “hugely frustrating” – in the expectation that Salmond could now agree to appear once lawyers for both Holyrood and the former first minister assess Dorian’s written judgment, which is to be published on Monday.

Earlier this month, a number of the women who testified against Salmond hit out at the Crown Office and MSPs after their private messages about the case were released to the Scottish parliament.

The women said releasing the texts – after Holyrood issued an unprecedented legal order demanding they were disclosed – could have “grave consequences” for future victims of alleged sexual violence if people feared their private correspondence could be disclosed.