James Doleman’s fourth report from the trial of the former First Minister of Scotland, who is charged with sexual assault and attempted rape.
Edinburgh’s High Court heard from another witness this afternoon who said she was made to feel like a “plaything” by the former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and that an incident in his official residence led to a civil service decision that female staff were not to be left alone with him after 7pm.
Speaking from behind a screen, the woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – told the court that, in 2012, she went to a Glasgow restaurant where Salmond was hosting a dinner, an event she described as a “jovial occasion”.
At the end of the evening, as people were leaving, she said that Salmond was ushering people out when “he gestured for me to go ahead of him” and “as he did that, he smacked my buttocks and carried on leaving the restaurant”. The witness said: “I remember feeling trying not to react physically, it felt demeaning and it made me feel like I was a plaything to him.”
She said that she mentioned what had happened to a colleague immediately after but “after that, I moved past it”. Asked if she had considered reporting the incident, the witness replied: “There was nobody I could see I could report this to, he was my boss and he happened to be the most powerful person in the country.”
The witness next told the court about another dinner event in Edinburgh, which finished after 11.30pm, at which Salmond had been drinking. She travelled back to Bute House, the First Minister’s official residence, in his company at his request. “I was told to go back,” she added as she was carrying official Government papers.
After following Salmond to his private rooms and attempting to hand over the papers, the witness said she asked if she could leave. “He said I was not to leave and I was to sit next to him on the [two-seater] sofa,” she told the court. “You didn’t tend to be in a position to disagree with him, so I sat next to him.”
The politician then went to the drinks cabinet and poured out “shots”, according to the witness. Although the woman said she told Salmond that she didn’t want a drink, he took one and sat back beside her. “I felt like I had limited options to get out of there… I began to feel slightly intimidated and trapped,” she told the court. When she told him she had to leave because she had guests staying at her flat who were locked out, the witness claimed “he wasn’t accepting that excuse”.
Salmond then made a sexually suggestive remark, she said, put his arm around her and leaned in to kiss her. “I knew if I didn’t get out something scary was going to happen, so I just stood up, said I had to go, grabbed my coat and went out of the door,” she said. “He was frustrated and somewhat defeated, saying something along the lines of ‘okay, go’.”
Asked how she felt after the incident, the witness said that she “hated him for what he had just done” and that her “main feeling was that I didn’t want to be around him again”.
The next day, the woman said she contacted a colleague to say Salmond had acted inappropriately and that she would not be coming into work. At the time, she said she did not want to get involved with any police investigation as the referendum on Scottish independence was only a few months away and any scandal might be used by political opponents.
Cross-examining for the defence, Gordon Jackson QC suggested to the witness that Salmond was being “playful” when he smacked her bottom, but the witness said that she didn’t see it that way.
With regards to the alleged incident in Bute House, Jackson asked the witness if she had been upset that a picture of the dinner in Edinburgh had been put out on social media. “I was concerned,” she replied. Jackson suggested that this was the reason Salmond had put his arm around her, to comfort her, and noted that there had been no attempt made by his client to stop her from leaving when she did.
“Things that were thought of as nothing are thought of us criminal now,” Jackson observed. But the witness said that the incident was serious enough to change staff procedures. “Women were never allowed to work with him alone after that,” she said.
Jackson then asked the witness about a 2018 email in which it was mentioned that she had not wanted to participate in the Scottish Government investigation into these incidents. “[Salmond] wasn’t powerful by then,” he pointed out. The witness explained that she was concerned about some parts of the process, adding: “They didn’t realise who they were dealing with.”
Alex Salmond denies all of the charges. The trial continues.