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Alex Salmond pulls out of inquiry appearance as Holyrood faces a ‘crisis’

Former first minister Alex Salmond.
Former first minister Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond has pulled out of a planned appearance before MSPs after a dramatic day left the Scottish Parliament facing a “crisis of credibility”.

The committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister will instead hold private talks on Wednesday on the future of its inquiry.

The probe was rocked on Tuesday after MSPs were forced to redact Mr Salmond’s evidence amid legal warnings from the Crown Office, just hours after it was published on Monday night.

A parliament spokeswoman said: “Mr Salmond has informed the committee that he will not be attending tomorrow’s meeting to give evidence.

“The committee will instead meet in private to discuss the implications of Mr Salmond’s response and the next steps for its work.”

It was reported that the former SNP leader had suggested to parliament officials he could appear on Friday to testify, after there had been time to consider the changes to his submission.

Mr Salmond’s legal team had earlier demanded to be shown the legal basis for the redactions, which were agreed after an emergency meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB).

Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

In the Holyrood chamber, Labour MSP Neil Findlay described it as a “crisis for the credibility of this parliament”, as he called for the Lord Advocate to explain the actions of the Crown Office.

SNP politicians and Rape Crisis Scotland had previously warned that publishing the evidence could jeopardise court orders protecting the anonymity of the complainants in Mr Salmond’s trial last year, in which he was cleared of all charges.

The SPCB decided it was possible to publish the document, but was immediately contacted by the Crown Office after the submission was made publicly available on Monday night.

Redacted

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office.

“We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”

The Holyrood inquiry was set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond.

It followed a Court of Session civil ruling that the process had been “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial last year.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe.

‘Significant public interest’

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie, a member of the committee, also called for Lord Advocate James Wolffe to make a statement to parliament.

“The committee must be able to see all relevant evidence if we are ever to get to the truth of the matter,” she said.

“However, it has been reported that the Crown Office wrote to the Scottish Parliament threatening the parliament with contempt of court action following the publication of Alex Salmond’s evidence.

“Given that the Lord Advocate is in charge of the Crown Office and a member of the Government, he should be invited to come before Parliament and make an urgent statement, along with the Crown Agent David Harvie.

“And – given the significant public interest – I have asked the Presiding Officer to publish the letter from the Crown Office to the Parliament, so that we can better understand the restrictions placed on the corporate body.”

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