Nicola Sturgeon's husband denies giving 'false information' under oath
Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP chief husband denies giving ‘false information’ under oath at sexual harassment inquiry as Alex Salmond refuses to appear until censored evidence is published
- Feud between Nicola Sturgeon and predecessor Alex Salmond at heart of inquiry
- Her husband accused of lying about meeting between his wife and Mr Salmond
- Peter Murrell denies he knew about meeting in advance and was there during
- Tory MSP Murdo Murdo Fraser said: ‘You made an untruthful statement to this committee’
- A court cleared Mr Salmond last year of multiple claims of sexual misconduct
Nicola Sturgeon’s husband was today accused of giving false evidence under oath about when his wife met Alex Salmond at their home and the former First Minister told his successor he had been accused of sexual harassment.
Peter Murrell has been forced to appear again before an inquiry looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond after complaints about evidence he gave in December.
Mr Murrell, who is also Chief Executive of the SNP, was accused of giving ‘two different accounts’ of the 2018 meeting where his wife met Mr Salmond to discuss the allegations of sexual assault.
It came as Mr Salmond pulled out of giving evidence to the inquiry because he ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed, his lawyers have said.
The former SNP leader was accused of attacking nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’.
The case ended his friendship with Ms Sturgeon and he declared angrily outside the court that the claims were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’ and the current inquiry threatens to tear apart the SNP and catastrophically damage their bid for a second independence referendum in seven years.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser today accused Mr Murrell of lying under oath about whether he knew about the meeting on April 2 2018 in advance, and whether he was in the house for the crunch talks, telling him: ‘You haven’t clarified anything, frankly’.
In a fractious Zoom hearing Mr Murrell also refused to say whether he stood by his previous claim that allegations about Mr Salmond’s conduct was government business rather than party business.
Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell was in front of a Scottish Government committee today and accused of lying under oath about what he knew about a meeting between his wife and Alex Salmond
Ms Sturgeon (pictured with her husband) will give evidence next week but Mr Salmond has refused to appear tomorrow
The toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond has torn the SNP apart amid claims she conspired to frame her old SNP boss so she could cement her own power after the 2014 referendum
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser today accused Mr Murrell of lying under oath about whether he knew about the meeting on April 2 2018 in advance
Who is Peter Murrell?
Mr Murrell has been chief executive of the SNP since 1999, when he took over the role from Michael Russell.
He had previously worked in the Banff and Buchan constituency office of the former first minister, Alex Salmond.
In July 2010, Mr Murrell married then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
What are the key points?
Mr Murrell had previously appeared in front of the committee in December.
During this appearance, convener Linda Fabiani had sought answers about a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at her Glasgow home on April 2 2018, where the First Minister was told by her predecessor of complaints of harassment made against him.
In his evidence, Mr Murrell initially said he did not know in advance about the meeting.
But later in the session, he contradicted himself by saying he was aware the previous day of Mr Salmond coming to the couple’s house – the first time he had visited since the 2017 general election campaign.
He also claimed in his written and oral evidence that he was not at home when the meeting took place, but again appeared to contradict himself by saying he arrived back ‘not long before the meeting ended’.
Why is he reappearing?
Concerns were raised over the contradictions Mr Murrell allegedly gave.
This led to the the Scottish Conservatives saying they would trigger a vote on whether Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament if he did not re-appear and clarify his comments.
What will happen next?
After Mr Murrell’s appearance on Monday, the former first minister Mr Salmond was expected to appear before the committee on Tuesday but has refused.
The current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will appear after that.
The row began when Mr Murrell told the committee in December that he was not at home for the talks and ‘not really aware that he [Salmond] was coming to the house on the first occasion’.
But later he admitted he was ‘aware that Alex was coming to the house’ and ‘arrived home not long before the meeting ended’.
Questioning Mr Murrell today, Mr Fraser said: ‘You have given this committee, under oath, two different accounts of the meeting on the 2nd of April, both in relation to your knowledge of it in advance, and whether you were in the house.’
Asked which account was true, he replied: ‘I wasn’t at the meeting, and I didn’t know what the meeting was about. I happened to arrive home just before the meeting finished’.
Mr Fraser then said this was proof he had previously given ‘false information’ under oath, adding: ‘You made an untruthful statement to this committee.’
As the pair started talking over each other Mr Murrell denied he was lying and said: ‘I wasn’t aware that the meeting was for a purpose, I thought he was just popping in for a chat’, and said he wasn’t in the meeting and ‘just happened to arrive home as it was ending’. When asked if he had lied in his evidence he said: ‘I completely refute what is being suggested here’.
Mr Fraser tweeted after the exchange: ‘Giving a false statement under oath is a criminal offence under s.44(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation)(Scotland)Act 1995. It is clear from his evidence today that Peter Murrell is guilty of this offence’.
He added: ‘A complaint has already been made to the Crown Office and the evidence today can only strengthen the case for a prosecution’.
Minutes later Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, asked if Mr Murrell was being coached by someone in the room.
She asked: ‘Is there anybody in the room with you? You keep looking off to the left’. Mr Murrell said he was alone and that Ms Baillie was trying to push a conspiracy theory.
Mr Salmond was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’.
The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish Government civil servants and officials.
He declared angrily outside the court that the claims were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’, and that he had ‘never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life’.
Nicola Sturgeon wanted to drive a ‘stake through the heart’ of rival Alex Salmond to end any threat to her leadership, says ex-ambassador
An extra, bizarre element has been added to the saga surrounding Alex Salmond’s claims by the intervention of Craig Murray, the controversial former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
He has released a signed affidavit based on conversations with Mr Salmond, which blames a close colleague of Ms Sturgeon for orchestrating the campaign against the former First Minister.
It includes claims that police had interviewed more than 400 people as part of a ‘fishing expedition’ against him, including one woman who had been seen ‘kissing him on the cheek’ in a hotel foyer and had told the officers that it was a ‘perfectly normal greeting’.
Mr Salmond’s personal protection officers were also interviewed and, according to Mr Murray, ‘all said they had seen him doing nothing wrong’.
The testimony claims that Ms Sturgeon wanted to place a ‘stake through the heart’ of Mr Salmond to end any threat to her leadership.
Alex Salmond has confirmed he will not appear before the Scottish Parliament Committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against him on Tuesday.
The former first minister was expected to give evidence at the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.
However, on Monday morning, his lawyers confirmed he would no longer be appearing on Tuesday, after the government declined to publish his written evidence.
David McKie, of Levy & McRae, said that Mr Salmond ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed.
These include that the committee did not intend to publish Mr Salmond’s submission on the Ministerial Code, and clarification over legal concerns.
In a letter to the committee, Mr McKie wrote: ‘Allowing our client to proceed without clear direction from you as convener is to place him in legal jeopardy. We cannot responsibly do that.
‘Our client remains willing to give evidence to the committee at any point up to the final date for evidence (currently fixed for 16th February).
‘However, he cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless and until you properly address in writing the legitimate concerns set out in this and our numerous previous letters.’
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: ‘Mr Salmond has not confirmed that he will attend the committee meeting on Tuesday and he has raised a number of issues for clarification. Tuesday’s evidence session will therefore not go ahead.
‘Mr Salmond had been contacted to make it clear that he can speak freely in committee about all of his contact with Nicola Sturgeon and his views on her actions.
‘He was given the opportunity to make a lengthy opening statement on Tuesday and would have had four hours to answer questions in public. He was also invited to send more written evidence for publication after the meeting.
‘The committee has already published two lengthy submissions from Mr Salmond and many, many pages of records and documents from him that he has been invited to speak freely about in Parliament on Tuesday.
‘All of this written and oral evidence could then be reflected in the committee’s report.
‘The committee continues to communicate with Mr Salmond’s representatives.’
Mr Salmond’s lawyers have said ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed
Ruth Davidson has said Ms Sturgeon has questions to answer over her conduct and the decision to contest Mr Salmond’s judicial review
Last month SNP ministers were accused of trying to block a deeper investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament as her closest ally refused to widen the probe into the Alex Salmond affair.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has refused to request a ministerial code of conduct probe be widened after Miss Sturgeon’s former mentor, Mr Salmond, accused the First Minister of ‘repeatedly’ misleading parliament.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: ‘The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation.’
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: ‘The political culture in the SNP government is a nauseating cocktail of arrogance, secrecy and incompetence.’
Mr Swinney has refused to widen a probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over the Alex Salmond affair.
The Deputy First Minister has refused to bow to pressure for a wider look at what Miss Sturgeon knew about the allegations against her former mentor.
The First Minister is already being investigated over possible breaches of the code of conduct by failing to disclose meetings with Mr Salmond. The meetings included discussions that Mr Salmond was facing complaints of sexual harassment made against him.
Mr Salmond has claimed the Scottish parliament was ‘repeatedly misled on a number of occasions’ by Miss Sturgeon about a meeting he held with her in April 2018. Members of the committee holding an inquiry into the handling of the harassment complaints against Mr Salmond have asked for the probe into Miss Sturgeon to include new revelations.
Miss Sturgeon has insisted she did not mislead parliament and hit back at the claims from her predecessor. She said: ‘These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee on inquiry and also by an independent adviser on matters relating to the ministerial code. I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries and people will draw their own conclusions.’
She added: ‘I do not consider I misled parliament but, of course, that is for others to judge.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.’
Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News. Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Miss Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.
April 2, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Miss Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.
April 23, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Miss Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.
June 6, 2018: Miss Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.
June 7, 2018: Miss Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.
July 14, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.
July 18, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Miss Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’
This is the last time Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints. He goes on to win this and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.
Did Nicola Sturgeon conspire to frame her old SNP boss on false sex charges? Alex Salmond’s explosive claim that led to a toxic fallout could derail her bid for Scottish independence
It is the murky saga of sex and skulduggery that has gripped Scottish politics – and could help to save the Union by stemming a surge in support for independence.
The toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond is being watched closely by senior Government figures in London. They have become increasingly convinced that Mr Salmond has been stitched up by a ‘jealous cabal’ around Ms Sturgeon.
With the most recent polls showing a narrow majority in favour of breaking away, Boris Johnson’s pro-Union allies are doing little to disguise their delight at the sight of the two most powerful advocates of Scottish nationalism tearing each other apart.
The SNP last month accused Mr Johnson of ‘panicking’ over the support for Scottish nationalism when he paid a snap visit over the border to urge the UK to unite against Covid, declaring that the debate over independence was ‘irrelevant’ to most people.
Mr Salmond (pictured in 2014) was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’
But in a sign of how seriously Mr Johnson takes the issue, last week he appointed Oliver Lewis – the trusted aide nicknamed ‘Sonic’, who played a pivotal role in the successful Brexit trade negotiations with the EU – as head of a new ‘Union unit’ to shore up support for the UK.
Mr Salmond’s allies believe that Ms Sturgeon wanted to place a ‘stake through the heart’ of the former First Minister to end any threat he posed to her leadership; their professional rivalries have been lent an extra dimension by the differences in temperament between the rotund, gregarious Mr Salmond and the steely, diminutive Ms Sturgeon.
After a court cleared Mr Salmond last year of multiple claims of sexual misconduct, he accused Ms Sturgeon’s government of ‘systematic’ dishonesty by secretly facilitating the complaints by women – with Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, who is also the SNP’s chief executive, said to have encouraged the police to pursue the allegations.
Mr Salmond was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’.
The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish Government civil servants and officials. He declared angrily outside the court that the claims were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’, and that he had ‘never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life’.
His defence team claimed during the trial that a senior Scottish official in Ms Sturgeon’s government, known as Woman A, had contacted some of the other complainers before Mr Salmond was charged – something that his lawyer said ‘absolutely stinks’.
Claims by Mr Salmond’s allies – that he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ms Sturgeon – was bolstered by the emergence of a message from Mr Murrell to another SNP official in which he said that it was a ‘good time to be pressurising’ Mr Salmond over the claims.
Mr Salmond is scheduled to set out his claims at length in public for the first time on Tuesday, when he is due to give evidence before a Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against him.
However, that appearance has been placed in doubt after the committee refused to publish a key plank of Mr Salmond’s evidence, in which he argues that Ms Sturgeon has breached the ministerial code by misleading Parliament over how she first learned about the allegations. Mr Salmond wrote: ‘Most seriously, Parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions about the nature of the meeting of April 2, 2018. The First Minister told Parliament that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on April 2, 2018. That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.’ Breaching the code is normally a resignation offence. James Hamilton QC is investigating Ms Sturgeon over the issue.
However, it is understood that Mr Salmond now plans to pull out of the hearing if the committee has not published the evidence by tomorrow, and instead hold an explosive press conference to set out his claims based on text and WhatsApp messages, collated during the criminal investigation, which he says points to a conspiracy. One senior SNP source close to Mr Salmond said: ‘There are some 700 electronic messages – WhatsApp groups and text messages.’
Ms Sturgeon is due to give evidence at the committee on February 16, and is expected to be the final witness. Her husband has been recalled to appear for a second time tomorrow.
She has dismissed the claims of conspiracy as a ‘heap of nonsense’ – but Mr Salmond’s allies question why she made the Scottish Government’s policy on harassment retrospective. One SNP source said: ‘The timescale is confirmation that they were going after Alex Salmond. This was not done for any other reason.’
The claims are increasingly believed by senior figures in Mr Johnson’s Government. One source said: ‘Salmond has got his bit between his teeth, and his claims about Sturgeon are looking increasingly convincing.’ Before the souring of their relationship, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon had been close political allies, with Mr Salmond acting as her mentor.
When he agreed to become leader for the second time, in 2004 – ultimately leading the SNP to power for the first time in its history – it was as part of a joint ticket, with Ms Sturgeon as his deputy.
But when Mr Salmond finally stepped down, after losing the 2014 independence referendum, tensions grew over his demand for Mr Murrell to stand down as SNP chief executive.
His allies say those tensions dramatically escalated into all-out war in early 2018, when it was rumoured that, after losing his Westminster seat, Mr Salmond would stand for the Scottish Parliament – something which they say provoked a competitive reaction from Ms Sturgeon and her inner circle, and ultimately the criminal trial.
A source said: ‘There is a jealous and insecure element to Nicola and her gang.’
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