After Day 8, there is a change in the balance of evidence. Previously a popular meme has been that either Alex Salmond must be lying, or 9 separate women must be lying. After today’s evidence we can say that either several of those women must be lying, or a variety of other direct witnesses, female and male, must be lying. There is of course an element of false dichotomy even in this statement of the case, as in a number of instances there is a fair degree of commonality from both prosecution and defence as to actions, but differences as to interpretation or to intent. I can also say without any fear of contradiction that many of the allegations would not meet the definition of a sexual assault as commonly understood by the person in the street. That is not to say they cannot meet a legal definition. There I will bow to the judge – who I continue to find very fair.
The first witness today was Ms Samantha Barber, a company director. She had known Alex Salmond since 1994 when she was working for the SNP as a research assistant for the Euro elections. She had thereafter been employed by the European Parliament, and in 2007 become the Chief Executive of Scottish Business in the Community, a post she still held in 2014. She is now a director of several companies.
In the seven years Alex Salmond was First Minister she had several times been a guest at Bute House for dinner. She had a positive and respectful relationship with Alex Salmond but they were not personal friends outside of business.
She had been a personal friend of Ms H, the accuser who alleged attempted rape, for some years by 2014. They remain friends. She had been invited to the evening reception of Ms H’s wedding. She testified she is also a friend of Ms H’s current husband.
Ms H had telephoned her to invite her to the dinner at Bute house with the (not to be named) actor on 13 June 2014. Ms H in inviting her had stated she (Ms H) was not able to be there. In fact Ms H had indeed not been at the dinner. Ms Barber had arrived that evening at around 7pm. She had been shown up to the drawing room. The actor was already there and they had chatted together, just the two of them, until about 7.15pm when Alex Salmond had joined them. The three of them had dinner together. It was friendly and conivivial. At first the actor’s career had been discussed and then Scottish independence. Nobody else was there. Asked if any private secretaries had been in and out during dinner, Ms Barber replied not to her recollection. Nobody interrupted them
One bottle of wine was served during dinner. She had left after dinner around 9 and the actor had stayed on as Alex Salmond offered to show him around the Cabinet Room.
Defence Counsel Shelagh McCall QC asked her if Ms H had been there? No. Did you see her at any point during the evening? No.
[Ms H had claimed she was at this dinner and the attempted rape occurred afterwards. Alex Salmond had testified Ms H was not there at all. A video police interview with the actor had tended to support the idea Ms H, or another similar woman, was there and they were four at dinner.]
Prosecution counsel Alex Prentice then cross-examined Ms Barber. He asked whether she had received a message from the police on 29 January. She replied yes she had, and called them back on 3 February. Prentice asked whether they had then told her they wanted a statement, and whether she had replied she needed to take advice first. Ms Barber agreed.
Prentice asked why she would need legal advice to give a statement to police. Ms Barber replied she had never been involved in any judicial matter and wanted to understand the process she was getting into before she did anything. She had not said she wanted legal advice first, just advice.
Prentice asked again “why would you need legal advice before talking to the police”? Ms Barber again replied she wanted to understand the process she was getting into.
Prentice asked again, twice more, “why would you need legal advice before talking to the police?”. He got the same answer each time. You will recognise from yesterday’s report of his cross-examination of Alex Salmond, that it is a rhetorical trick of Prentice, to constantly repeat the same question in order to throw an unreasoned suspicion on the veracity of the answer. On this occasion he was stopped by the judge, who had enough.
Lady Dorrian pointedly asked him “Is a citizen not entitled to take advice, Mr Prentice?”, in a Maggie Smith tone of contempt.
Prentice then asked whether Ms Barber had already been at another Bute House dinner in May. Ms Barber replied not that she could recall. Prentice then asserted that the dinner on 13 June was with the actor, Ms H, and Alex Salmond. Ms Barber replied no, she genuinely had no recollection at all of Ms H being there.
The defence counsel Shelagh McCall QC then resumed questions. She asked if the police had put to Ms Barber that Ms H was there. Ms Barber replied that they had, and she had told them exactly what she had told the defence and now told the court, that Ms H had not been there.
The next witness was Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who swore on the Koran. She had joined the SNP in 2000 and been appointed national Women and Equalities Convenor in 2011. From 2015 to 2017 she was MP for the Ochil Hills.
Shelagh McCall QC asked if she knew Ms H. She replied for some years, and more frequently from 2012. Ms H had been involved in the Yes campaign. They had a good relationship, and in 2014 Ms H had asked her advice on standing for the SNP national executive committee.
McCall asked her if she remembered the date of the 13 June 2014 dinner. Tasmina responded yes, that was the day her father had died. She had received a message he was taken very ill that morning and had set off for London. At Carlisle they learnt he had died. (At this point the witness broke into tears.)
Before leaving Scotland with her husband she had messaged the First Minister’s office to say she would not be able to attend the Scottish women’s international football match the next day. (The point of this evidence is it contradicts Ms H’s evidence of her interaction with Ms Ahmed-Sheikh over the football.)
McCall led the witness on to June 2015 when Ms H had contacted her about becoming the SNP candidate for an Aberdeenshire constituency. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh confirmed that in June 2015 she had received a text from Ms H about the chances of Alex Salmond endorsing her, including the phrase “it would be great to be working with Alex again”.
Later Ms H discovered Salmond would not support her. Later texts read “Alex doesn’t think there is any chance for me against (name withheld)”, and then that she was withdrawing from the race and “Alex has it all to explain for”, alleging that Salmond had found another candidate to stand against her.
McCall then led Ms Ahmed-Sheikh to the occasion of the Stirling Castle dinner for the Council of Economic Advisers and the accusation of Ms E that Salmond had grabbed her buttock during a photoshoot. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh said the dinner had been very convivial, with a good atmosphere and speeches. Afterwards the guests had all gone onto the parapet in groups to have their photo taken with the First Minister with the Lion Rampant flag. Space was limited on the parapet so it was done in small groups. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh had been in the same small group as Ms E. She had her photo taken with the First Minister immediately before Ms E. Afterwards she had watched Ms E have her photo taken as the group all waited for each other and left together. This was just politeness.
Shelagh McCall asked a series of questions:
Did you see Alex Salmond insist Ms E have her photo taken? No.
Did you witness any discomfort from Ms E? No.
Did you see anything untoward? No.
[Ms E has accused Alex Salmond of grabbing her buttocks during the photoshoot.]
The prosecution asked no questions of Ms Ahmed-Sheikh.
The next defence witness was Fergus Mutch. He had worked from 2012 as a parliamentary constituency support worker for Alex Salmond, becoming office manager there in 2013 and in November 2015 head of communications and research for the SNP. He had first met Ms H in 2013 during the Yes campaign. In May and June 2015 he had dealt with her during the constituency selection process. In June 2015 she had sent him an email about wanting to become the candidate and asked him to set up a meeting with Alex Salmond. He had forwarded it on to Salmond.
Asked by Shelagh McCall if Alex Salmond had a preferred candidate, Mutch replied that Salmond had thought there were better, more local, candidates than Ms H. In June and July of 2015 Ms H had become well aware that was Mr Salmond’s view.
Shelagh McCall then turned to the accusation of Ms F, that she had been indecently assaulted by Alex Salmond in the early hours of 10/11 September 2014. Mr Mutch testified that during the 2014 referendum campaign both he and Ms F had accompanied Alex Salmond on tours, sometimes separately and sometimes together. On 12 September they had all three travelled by helicopter. He was shown a twitter post by Ms F made on 12 September at 6.45pm stating “extraordinary day in Indyref to Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Perth”. Mr Mutch said they had all been together from about 9am until about 9pm on the helicopter tour finishing at Gleneagles where they stayed the night.
Shelagh McCall QC asked how Ms F seemed that 12 September: “on good form, professional, buoyant”. How had she interacted with Alex Salmond “relaxed, normal, sitting next to him in the helicopter”.
Shelagh McCall then led Mr Mutch to February 2015, when he was working on a book about the referendum campaign. Ms F had sent him her campaign diary as source material. Ms F’s diary entry for 11 September (immediately following the alleged assault) read:
“Up at 7am. Heard Alex Salmond on Good Morning Scotland. Began making my way to International Conference Centre. Having to stand in the hot hall handing the microphone to journalists taking its toll, particularly after the whisky the night before. By contrast Alex Salmond is sharp in response to the questions, particularly from Nick Robinson.”
The prosecution had no questions for Mr Mutch.
The next defence witness was Mr Kirk Torrance. He had been a new media specialist for the SNP from 2009 to 2011 and had been brought in by them again for the referendum campaign. He testified that he had been in Bute House on several occasions, and the first time he had been there Alex Salmond had given a tour of the building and explained the history, paintings and so on. He had seen Alex Salmond do the same with other visitors.
He testified he had known Ms F since 2010. He well remembered the events of 10 September 2014 and the huge effect on the referendum campaign of the Royal Bank of Scotland announcement about moving its head office to England. The following day he had been inside SNP party headquarters watching the event from the International Conference Centre on live TV. After this Ms F had come in to SNP HQ and he had seen her in the kitchen at lunchtime. She had been regaling the HQ staff, especially the female staff, with the funny story that Alex Salmond had told her the previous evening about the well known political journalist who had passed out at Bute House after a sexual encounter.
Ms McCall asked whether she had appeared upset by the story [as Ms F and prosecution had claimed – see yesterday’s report]. Mr Torrance replied no, quite the opposite. She was enjoying retelling it, particularly to the female staff. Ms McCall asked whether the occasion could be interpreted as Ms F trying to process and make sense of an unfortunate event? No, replied Mr Torrance.
The next defence witness was Karen Watt, currently Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council for Further and Higher Education. From 2009 to 2012 she had been Principal Private Secretary to the First Minister.
Defence QC Gordon Jackson asked what Alex Salmond had been like as a boss. She replied working for him had been both a privilege and a penance. It has been exciting, fast paced, stressful and very demanding. Salmond could personally be demanding, fierce, fun and good company.
Jackson asked about Ms D. Ms Watt replied Ms D was very smart and got things done. Alex Salmond had rated her highly. Had Ms D enjoyed her time in the Private Office? Yes. Led by Jackson, Ms Watt explained that she would normally go on overseas visits with the First Minister but had not done so on the China trip as she was leaving the office shortly thereafter. The civil service contingent had thus been led by Donald Cameron, principal private secretary to Leslie Evans, head of the Scottish Civil Service. There had been a formal debrief meeting after the visit, at which nothing exceptional happened.
A few days later Donald Cameron had told her that he had witnessed an event in a lift in China where Alex Salmond had attempted to touch Ms D’s hair. He had seemed concerned but Ms Watt had not known what to make of it. The two of them had therefore held a meeting with Ms D. At the meeting Ms D had stated that the event was nothing that had concerned her. Ms Watt had viewed this as the end of the matter.
Ms Watt was then asked about Ms B. She said that Ms B was good at her job, smart and professional. She managed other staff on the policy side. Gordon Jackson asked her if she remembered the matter of the Jack Vettriano Christmas card.
Had she shared the view that the card was inappropriate? Yes she had.
Did she remember it being discussed in the office? Yes she did.
Had Ms B said anything to her about a sexual encounter with Alex Salmond in relation to the painting? Ms Watt replied she could not recall such a thing.
Did she tell you Alex Salmond had repeatedly grabbed her wrists? I do not remember any such conversation.
Did she tell you about anything of a sexual nature with Alex Salmond? No.
[Ms Watt was Ms B’s manager. Ms B had testified she had reported the alleged incident to Ms Watt.]
There were no questions to Ms Watt from the prosecution.
The next defence witness was Geoff Aberdein. He had been Chief of Staff to Alex Salmond from 2011 to 2014. He had first started working for him in 2004. He testified that Alex Salmond was a firm but fair boss. Work had been very demanding. Salmond had high standards, did not mince his words but welcomed people giving the same back to him. Their relationship was purely professional – they were not friends outside working hours.
In 2013 Salmond’s Principal Private Secretary had told him about the incident with Ms F. He had never been aware of any other sexual allegation regarding Alex Salmond. Salmond had taken responsibility and apologised. Ms F had been offered the chance to leave Private Office for another civil service job, but had declined. In spring of 2014 Griffin had been on a trip with Salmond and Miss F together, which had been normal.
On 8 to 9 March 2018 Ms A had contacted him to say she was involved in a process of looking at complaints about Alex Salmond. He had spoken to Kevin Pringle and Duncan Hamilton by conference call to discuss this. On 29 March 2018 he had held a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament to discuss this. On 2 April he had attended a further meeting in Sturgeon’s home. In none of these contacts did Ms A reveal she was personally making allegations of abuse. Gordon Jackson asked whether there was even the slightest hint that Ms A was personally making a complaint? No, never.
There were no questions for Mr Aberdein from the prosecution.
The next defence witness was Ms Lorraine Kaye. A civil servant for 21 years, she had been deputy private secretary to Alex Salmond under three successive principal private secretaries. She stated that working in the Private Office was very demanding, the hours were incredibly long. You might start at 7am and then not leave Bute House until after midnight after dealing with the ministerial box and correspondence. You could be working on speeches and papers there until the early hours. She had personally done this.
Gordon Jackson asked if there had ever been a policy of female civil servants not being alone in the evening at Bute House with Alex Salmond. Ms Kaye replied no, she had frequently been there alone herself throughout. She had loved the job – it was the highlight of her career.
Asked about Alex Salmond as a boss, Ms Kaye said he was driven, committed and set high standards for himself and for everybody else. He was old-fashioned. He had always opened the door for her and other women and ushered them in, he would insist even junior civil servants be seated properly at table when working over meals. Gordon Jackson asked if Salmond was tactile? Yes, he was always hugging and kissing and posing for selfies with people.
Jackson said there was a difference between being tactile and over the top. Was he ever out of order? Not that I saw, replied Ms Kaye.
You were there sometimes very late? Yes, we could come back to Bute House after a dinner or function after 11pm and still have to finish papers and correspondence.
Was there ever any policy not to be alone there with Mr Salmond?
No. I was, frequently.
Gordon Jackson asked about Ms D. Had she ever tugged her hair? Ms Kaye said yes she had. Ms D had remarkable tight ringlets of which Ms Kaye laughed she was very jealous. People tugged them. This may sound surprising but the atmosphere in the Private Office was that they were all very close. They spent much more time with each other than with their own family and friends.
You were never uncomfortable around Mr Salmond? No.
Would you attend dinners at Bute House sometimes? Yes, that was part of the job.
There were no questions from the prosecution for Ms Kaye.
The next defence witness was Alexander Anderson. He had worked for Alex Salmond in various capacities from 1998 to 2016. From 2012 he had been a SPAD to the First Minister covering external policy, and had responsibility for speeches, correspondence and diary. He said that Salmond could be a demanding boss, but also encouraging and inspiring.
In 2008 Anderson had been working on press in the Glasgow East by-election campaign office. Alex Salmond arrived several times, always with an entourage, and would always be straight out campaigning with his entourage and the candidate. He had seen no interactions between Salmond and Ms A in the campaign offices.
The atmosphere in Salmond’s Private Office had been intense. It would be fair to call it a family atmosphere. It was very hard working but also light-hearted and they had socialised. Salmond was a tactile person. He would always take people’s hand on the street and hug people at bus stops or in businesses as he campaigned. Gordon Jackson asked if he saw a clear line between that and inappropriate sexuality? Absolutely.
Had Anderson seen Salmond together with Ms D? Yes. They appeared to have a great relationship. Ms D was very smart, a good colleague and a bubbly personality. Gordon Jackson asked if Anderson knew Ms F. Yes, he replied. Had he seen her in stockinged feet? Yes, Anderson replied, this appeared to be her habit at work. [This confirms Salmond’s account and contradicts Ms D’s account of how she came to have her shoes off.]
Gordon Jackson then led on to Ms E. Had Mr Anderson been at the Stirling Castle dinner, and had he been one of those photographed with Alex Salmond on the ramparts? Yes, replied Anderson, they had all had photos taken because it was the first time in 300 years the lion rampant had flown at Stirling castle. There had been a professional photographer there to take the photos.
Were you there when Ms E was photographed? Yes, I was on the ramparts with her.
Did you see anything inappropriate? No.
Did you witness any reluctance on her part? Did you hear her say anything? No.
The prosecution had no questions for Mr Anderson.
The final witness of the day was Ms Ann Harvey, who worked in the SNP whips’ office at Westminster from 2006-9 and 2011 to present. She had been present at the Glasgow East by-election. In response to a question from Gordon Jackson, she replied that she had witnessed nothing inappropriate there when Alex Salmond visited.
Gordon Jackson asked whether she had more recently been asked anything relevant? Ms Harvey replied that on 31 October 2017 she had received a series of 16 text messages to her private number asking for information and whether she could disclose anything about the past. Gordon Jackson asked what the messages said specifically and who they were from.
At this point, Alex Prentice rose for the prosecution and objected to this line of questioning. The jury was dismissed and a legal argument was held on the admissibility of this information. I am not allowed to report the legal discussion. In the end the judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and Ms Harvey was dismissed.
That concluded the day’s proceedings. It was a day on which defence witnesses directly contradicted evidence from the accusers on a number of key points, most importantly but by no means solely on the question of whether Ms H was present at all at the event where she claimed to have been the victim of attempted rape. It was also given in evidence that people had not reported incidents they said they had reported, and there was no civil service policy against women working alone in the evening with Alex Salmond – which claim had been one of the MSM’s most lurid headlines.
MSM reporting I have seen to date has not reported today’s proceedings fairly. For example in reporting that Ms Barber had testified Ms H was not at the dinner, the media has not generally reported the key facts that Ms Barber knew Ms H very well and the dinner was just for three people.
It is interesting that the prosecution chose not to cross examine the defence witnesses, except in the case of Ms Barber who was subjected more to innuendo than to cross-examination and who gained the protection of the judge. I am very constrained by what I can legally comment at present, so let us leave it there for the day.
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