James Doleman reports from the trial of the former First Minister of Scotland, who is charged with sexual assault and attempted rape.
A female civil servant today told Edinburgh’s High Court that the former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her in 2013.
Testifying from behind a screen, the woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – said that she was working in the drawing room of Bute House, the First Minister’s official residence, in November of that year when Salmond entered, “kissed me on the mouth, then said goodnight” – behaviour which she had “absolutely not” encouraged and which left her “completely taken aback and shocked” as “there was an element of the surreal about it”.
“The First Minister was not somebody you would like to express displeasure to,” she added, when asked if she had said anything about it.
Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown, asked the woman if there were any other events that had caused her concern regarding Salmond. She said that, shortly after the first incident, in an evening in December, she was again working in Bute House and went into the private sitting room to discuss some paperwork. She said that Salmond told her “it was too cold” in the sitting room and that they should go upstairs to the bedroom to work.
The woman said that she had no concerns at that time as “he spoke very matter of factly and it was indeed cold as there was an issue with the heating that day”. They then sat at a table in the bedroom to discuss the paperwork, she said, with Salmond producing a bottle of spirit and two glasses. “He kept trying to fill me glass, but I was barely drinking,” she said.
Salmond asked the woman to take off her boots, the court heard – at which she felt slightly uncomfortable – “but it was a request from the First Minister so I complied”. She later decided it was time to end the meeting as it was around 11pm. As she crossed the room to go, she said that Salmond told to her “get on the bed”, at which she felt panicked. “But this was a working environment where you did what the First Minister said,” she added.
The woman told the court that she sat on the edge of the bed with her feet on the floor and, before she knew it, Salmond was “lying on top of me, kissing me around the face sloppily and haphazardly, and murmuring a phrase like ‘you’re irresistible’”. He was also touching her intimately, she said, and had pulled her skirt up to her waist.
“I kept saying I need to be going,” she said and tried to “restrict the movement of the First Minister’s hands… but I was trying to be polite, I was a member of his staff… I knew I had to stop this to get away, but I didn’t know how to achieve that.”
The witness said that Salmond’s weight shifted and that she managed to get off the bed and out of the room. “It all felt so surreal,” she told the court. “Part of my job was protecting the First Minister and his reputation. I felt crushed. You instantly think of ways you could have responded differently to stop things earlier. I had a sense of horror that this was sufficiently serious I had to tell somebody, but I couldn’t imagine doing that, I couldn’t imagine saying the words.”
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She said that she left the building and sent a text message to a civil service manager she knew which read “that’s an evening I want to forget”. She described feeling “an enormous weight, that I had to do something”. The next day, she met the manager in person and told him what had happened but “not all the details, I was finding it extremely difficult to get the words out… I don’t think I was very composed.”
The court heard that the woman spoke to her line manager the day after and told him what had happened. There was then a further meeting involving a senior member of the First Minister’s staff. She subsequently met Salmond at his office in Holyrood where he apologised and said he had been “drinking too much due to stress” and that he wanted them to keep working together.
Asked what her response was, the witness said: “I accepted the apology and remained in my post.” Asked who else she told about the incident she said she told her husband “in general terms”, but not anyone else in her family.
Gordon Jackson QC, for the defence, began his cross-examination of the witness by asking her if Salmond was a “tactile man”. “He was with women,” she replied.
The defence advocate suggested that it was normal for the woman to take off her boots when she went into a carpeted room, but she told the court that she only did that because the First Minister had asked her and that she was not comfortable with doing so at the time. Jackson asked if it was possible she had sat on the bed to put her boots back on. “I don’t think I would have spontaneously sat on the First Minister’s bed,” she replied.
Jackson then put it to the witness that the two of them had cuddled on the bed, to which she responded: “I refute that entirely.” The advocate asked her if it was not true that when she said “this is not a good idea”, the incident stopped. “It was some time after that,” she replied.
Jackson then suggested to the witness that both her and Salmond got off the bed and that he did not try to restrain her or ask her not to go. The witness agreed. Jackson noted that the witness had gone downstairs, sent some emails and put in an overtime claim. In one of the emails, she had said that “there are going to be one or two sore heads in the morning”. When asked what she had meant, the woman said “this was a diplomatic way of putting it” and that the work she had done later “showed I was in full possession of my facilities”.
Jackson then suggested that it would not be a good career move for a career civil servant to admit that she had been drinking too much with the First Minister, late at night in Bute House. “The First Minister liked to encourage staff to drink with him,” she replied.
She said that she did not apologise to Salmond when she received an apology from him and said that, following his apology, she considered the matter closed and had not considered reporting the matter to the police as “that would have been completely unthinkable”.
Jackson asked the witness that, if she thought the First Minister was trying to rape her, would she not have reported it? The woman said she “didn’t think he was going to stop” – to which Jackson replied: “But he did stop.”
Alex Salmond denies all of the charges. The trial continues.