James Doleman reports from the trial of the former First Minister of Scotland, who is charged with sexual assault and attempted rape.
A QC defending Alex Salmond, who is charged with sexual assault and attempted rape, today suggested to one of his alleged victims that he is a “touchy-feely” person and that “it’s just how he was”.
The trial of the former First Minister of Scotland continued today at Edinburgh’s High Court as another three women gave evidence alleging that they were sexually assaulted by him.
The first woman – who cannot be named for legal reasons – said that, in late 2014, she attended a meeting at the First Minister’s official residence of Bute House in Edinburgh, which was followed by a dinner. After the dinner, which she said was “jovial”, the witness said she went outside to the ramparts to have her photo taken with Salmond, at his insistence. “I didn’t want to refuse him,” she added.
The woman said that, while she was standing in front of the photographer, Salmond put his arm around her shoulder and “then reached down and grabbed a hold of my backside”. She said she felt “shock and disbelief” but “didn’t want to make a scene… it was like time stood still”. She said Salmond’s actions were “absolutely not” accidental, but “very deliberate”.
The witness said that, when she returned to her office the next day, she informed her manager of the alleged incident.
Gordon Jackson QC, cross-examining for the defence, suggested that, while the witness may have thought that Salmond had acted “inappropriately”, she had told the police that she “didn’t think there was a sexual element to it”. The woman replied: “The First Minister grabbed me because he could.”
The next woman to testify – an Scottish National Party worker who also cannot be named for legal reasons – told the court that, in 2014, she was asked to accompany Salmond to a dinner in Glasgow. She then went with him back to his official residence at Bute House in Edinburgh.
She said that Salmond was “very angry” as a negative news story had just broken and that, when they arrived at Bute House, he went to his private living room and was “pacing and talking on the phone”. The woman said she sat on a sofa and placed a phone call to a colleague.
After the phone calls, she said that Salmond “appeared to relax and engaged me in casual conversation and asked if I would like a drink”. She agreed and he poured them both a whisky. “I took a couple of sips, but I don’t really like whisky,” she said. “I felt out of my comfort zone.”
The witness said that the then First Minister took her on a tour of the house, which she said “felt odd” and that they then returned to the living room. She left briefly, but when she returned, she said Salmond was lying on the floor and reading the draft of a speech, which the witness said took her aback. He then gestured for her to join him, which she did, but at a distance. “I felt I had to manage the situation, but didn’t want to anger him,” she told the court.
The court heard that they initially talked about the speech and then Salmond asked her whether she had “seen that zombie movie?”. She said he stood up and put his arms towards her and told her to “get up”. She did and Salmond put his hands on her shoulder, then leaned in and kissed her on both cheeks, at which point the witness said she felt “scared”.
The woman said she raised her arms, pushed Salmond away and took a couple of steps back. He then “returned to his speech and acted as if nothing had happened”. The witness said that she “was just glad he wasn’t angry”.
Salmond, she said, went into his adjacent study room then called her to join him. When she did, he allegedly said “oh yes” and put his hand on her leg. The witness said she “froze” and that she “felt quite intimidated” because she “became very aware there was no one else in the building, other than a security guard on the ground floor”.
The politician then said he was tired and going to bed and asked the witness if she wanted to stay the night. “There was no way in hell I was staying over,” she told the court. Salmond went to bed and the woman said that she completed her work on the speech and left the building.
The next day, she said that “I felt I’d had an awful nightmare” and “I was annoyed at myself and felt with hindsight it was all premeditated”.
Also cross-examining for the defence, Shelagh McCall QC suggested that Salmond was a “touchy-feely” person and that “it’s just how he was”. She told the witness that the court would hear that Salmond often laid draft speeches on the floor to work on them. The witness agreed with the advocate that she had accompanied Salmond on many other subsequent occasions and had taken a “selfie with him”.
McCall then asked the woman if she had been “encouraged” by anyone else to make a complaint about Salmond. She replied that she had been “gobsmacked” to find out there were other allegations as she thought what happened to her was a “one-off”.
Next, the court heard from another woman – a civil servant who cannot be named for legal reasons – who said that she too was sexually assaulted by Salmond.
The witness told the court that she often came into contact with Salmond and that he would fairly regularly “touch my bottom” which she found to be “incredibly uncomfortable”. She said that she had never encouraged this behaviour and found it “pretty humiliating”.
Asked if she had ever reported it, she replied: “He was the leader of the country… I felt if I made a complaint it would be my word against his and would be really, really bad for my career… in the context of what we were working on it would have been unthinkable.”
Gordon Jackson QC, cross-examining for the defence, asked the witness if she had a good relationship with Salmond and she agreed that, overall, she did and that “I worked hard at it”. She agreed that the incidents had not hugely impacted on how they worked together.
The defence QC then asked the woman if she had ever shown the then Scottish First Minister a picture of herself in a “skimpy bikini”. She replied: “I completely refute the idea that, unasked, I would show anyone a picture of myself in a bikini.” She said Salmond had asked to see photographs from her holiday and “it was hard to say no to the most powerful man in the country”.
The court then heard from the next witness, Donald Cameron – a civil servant based in Edinburgh – who testified that, on an overseas trip with Salmond, he was in a hotel lift with him and a female civil servant, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
Cameron told the court that, as they were travelling in the lift, Salmond reached out to stroke the female civil servant’s hair and that he pushed Salmond’s hand away, telling him “stop that, behave yourself”.
Jackson suggested that the then First Minister may have been acting inappropriately, but he was not doing it “behind your back, he’s doing it in front of a senior civil servant”. The witness confirmed that, during his period of service, he was not aware of any policy about not letting women be alone with Salmond.
Alex Salmond denies all of the charges. The trial continues.