An MSP on the Alex Salmond inquiry has said WhatsApp messages appearing to show Nicola Sturgeon’s husband backing police action against the former first minister should be investigated by his committee.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP, said the Holyrood inquiry would be interested in examining the electronic communications.
Mr Cole-Hamilton, who sits on the committee of MSPs investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment claims made against Mr Salmond, said the contents of the messages could be significant.
In the meantime, Police Scotland has launched an inquiry into the leaking of the electronic messages, which are related to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial. Mr Salmond was cleared of all sexual offences charges during the trial earlier this year.
The Crown Office has instructed officers to investigate how the messages were made public.
Their existence came to light when they were passed to SNP MP Kenny MacAskill, who says he has given them to a Holyrood committee as well as the Crown Office. Mr MacAskill has said the messages were in a document he received anonymously.
One line of inquiry will be whether these messages were part of a dossier passed on to Mr Salmond’s legal team by the Crown as part of the disclosure process in his recent criminal trial. Mr Salmond was cleared of all sexual offence charges in March this year.
The document claims to show WhatsApp messages from Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband, who is also the chief executive of the SNP.
One of the key focal points of our committee’s work is whether there was a conspiracy to get Alex Salmond and to destroy his career.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP
According to the document, they appear to have been sent in January 2019 after Mr Salmond had appeared in court charged with sexual offences. It was also the month in which a separate complaint was made about the former SNP leader to the Metropolitan Police, which the London force later dropped.
One message appears to show Mr Murrell calling for pressure to be put on police over Mr Salmond’s case. A second message appears to show the SNP chief executive supporting action by prosecutors in relation to the former first minister.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “First and foremost, we need to be sure that these messages are legitimate and real. And once we are satisfied that they are then, absolutely, we would be interested in looking into them.
“Because one of the key focal points of our committee’s work is whether there was a conspiracy to get Alex Salmond and to destroy his career with the new procedure (the Scottish Government’s new rules for dealing with harassment claims against ministers). These messages appear to lend significant credence to that point of view.
“If they are real it makes Peter Murrell’s assertion that Nicola Sturgeon and he never discussed the government complaint highly implausible.”
In evidence submitted to the Holyrood inquiry, Mr Murrell has said he did not know that complaints had been made against Mr Salmond under the Scottish Government procedure until the matter became public in August 2018.
He did know about meetings between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at their family home on April 2 and July 14 2018. In his submission, Mr Murrell said he had “the sense that something serious was being discussed”.
However, he said his wife told him she could not discuss the details and he did not press her further on it.
The Salmond inquiry is investigating the Scottish Government’s bungled internal investigation into the claims made against the former SNP leader. Mr Salmond made a successful legal challenge against the Scottish Government with a court concluding the government’s handling of the matter had been tainted with apparent bias.
The Scottish Government was forced to pay out more than £500,000 for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.
Mr MacAskill told the Daily Record: “I can confirm that I received an anonymous letter containing a document. I have notified both Alex Salmond and the Crown and have passed it to the inquiry committee at the Scottish Parliament.
“I would like the Scottish Parliament and the Crown Office to investigate the contents of this document.”
The SNP declined to comment and Mr Salmond has been approached for a comment.