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Peter Murrell: ‘Spin, obfuscation’ and magpies at Salmond inquiry

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.
SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has been accused of “dancing on the head of a pin” following his second appearance before the committee investigating the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.

Mr Murrell, who is married to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, gave evidence for a second time on Monday morning.

At several points during questioning from the committee, Mr Murrell said he could not go into “details of messages”, as it would be an “invasion of privacy” of the complainers.

Committee members have subsequently accused him of taking part in “an exercise in spin and obfuscation”.

The Scottish Conservatives say they will now ask the Crown Office to examine “contradictory statements” given by Mr Murrell following Monday’s appearance.

Mr Murrell gave evidence virtually, appearing at several points to look over his shoulder. When asked if he was in the “room alone”, he said he had been looking at a pair of magpies in the garden.

Minutes before the committee was to convene, former first minister Alex Salmond announced he would not be appearing for his scheduled evidence session on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Mr Salmond said their client would be unable to “take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” until a number of concerns are addressed, including the committee not intending to publish Mr Salmond’s submission on the ministerial code and clarification over legal concerns.

‘Glib’ response

Committee member and interim Labour leader Jackie Baillie had asked about the content of messages which Mr Murrell refused to be drawn on.

Following Monday’s evidence session, she said: “Once more, Mr Murrell’s appearance before the committee was an exercise in spin and obfuscation.

“Murrell could not explain the nature of his text messages relating to the complaints against Mr Salmond, he could not confirm if he discussed the allegations against Mr Salmond with the first minister and he completely failed to refute the allegation that he was present for part of the meeting between the first minister and Mr Salmond in his own home.

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.

“Mr Murrell, despite trying to dance on the head of a pin, effectively conceded that there were other text messages relating to the complaints against Mr Salmond.

“When faced with the charge that he may have misled the committee, Mr Murrell replies glibly and seemingly without understanding the gravity of the offence.

“This obstruction and obfuscation is simply unacceptable and this committee will continue to do all it can to get to the truth.”

Murdo Fraser.

Scottish Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser repeatedly asked Mr Murrell about evidence provided to the committee in December last year.

He said: “You are refusing to answer a very simple question: ‘was your statement to me, under oath on December 8, that you were not at home during the meeting (between Salmond and Sturgeon on April 2 2018) true?'”

Mr Murrell responded: “I wasn’t at the meeting.”

Following his answers, Mr Fraser added: “I’m afraid, Mr Murrell, having called you back to clarify your evidence, you haven’t clarified anything.”

He added: “Mr Murrell has given false evidence to parliament under oath.

“He gives the impression that he can say whatever he wants with impunity but in Scotland such actions must surely have consequences.

“I intend to write to the Crown Office to ask them to investigate the matter.

“We had to drag him back to give evidence because of his previous contradictions around key aspects of his and his wife’s actions in relation to the former first minister.

“Monday’s evidence session was no better. Mr Murrell seems incapable of giving a straight answer. His dismal and shifty performance was a masterclass in evasion.

“What was particularly craven was the attempt to use the female complainers as human shields to deflect the committee from getting the answers the public deserves.”

What happened last time?

Mr Murrell previously appeared before 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.

Peter Murrell: Nicola Sturgeon’s husband ‘directly contradicts’ first minister’s evidence

He also claimed in his written and oral evidence  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”.

Salmond’s no-show

Following days of speculation, Alex Salmond confirmed he would not appear before the committee on Tuesday.

David McKie, of Levy & McRae, wrote to the committee and said: “Allowing our client to proceed without clear direction from you as convener is to place him in legal jeopardy. We cannot responsibly do that.

Salmond committee
Former first minister Alex Salmond.

“Our client remains willing to give evidence to the committee at any point up to the final date for evidence (currently fixed for February 16).

“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.

Salmond committee
Mr Salmond has stated he will not appear before the committee on Tuesday.

“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.”

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