James Doleman reports from Edinburgh’s High Court, where the former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is giving evidence in his defence to charges of sexual assault and attempted rape.
The former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has told Edinburgh’s High Court that the allegations of sexual assault and attempted rape against him are ” fabrications for a political purpose” or “exaggerations” of events that no-one had been concerned about at the time they happened.
On the seventh day of his trial, the jury of nine women and six men finally heard from Salmond himself.
Questioned by his advocate, Gordon Jackson QC, he told the court that he took up Scotland’s top job in 2007, when the Scottish National Party won the most seats in that year’s election and set up a minority government – a role he stayed in until the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
He said he had around 20 staff in his personal office and denied that there had ever been a policy that female staff could not be left alone with him. He described it as a high pressure, 24/7 “informal family environment”. Given the nature of his job, there were not the usual boundaries between working together and socialising together than would be found in most government departments, he said.
The accused was then asked about a specific incident that the court had heard previously – that he grabbed a woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, by the wrist and tried to kiss her. “I didn’t do that,” he said. Salmond said this was just “high jinks, a piece of fun” and that, in his opinion, the woman had “misremembered the incident”.
Salmond said that, at the time, no one had thought twice about the issue.
Asked about another allegation – that he touched a woman’s knee in a car while her husband sat in the front seat – the politician told the court that that particular car had a phone fitted in the armrest between the back two seats and this could not be moved so touching the woman’s leg for any length of time would have been observed by both of the people in the front two seats – one of whom, the driver, was a former police officer and “no shrinking violet, he wouldn’t have allowed anything like that”.
On another charge, he said that he did sometimes touch another witness’s hair, but that this was just an affectionate gesture with no sexual motive. Salmond agreed that he did stroke this woman’s face while they were both in a car, but said that this was because she had fallen asleep and he did this to wake her up rather than to startle her by shaking her.
“From where I stand now I should have been more careful with people’s personal space, but events that were not viewed seriously at the time are now being,” Salmond told the court. He claimed that some of the accusations against him “were fabrications for political purposes,” while others were “exaggerations”.
Salmond was next asked about another alleged incident, this time at the Scottish First Minister’s official residence of Bute House. He said he had put his arm around a female civil servant because she had been upset about a photo that had been put on social media and that he was trying to comfort her. “I’d known her for many years and we had a very informal relationship,” he told the court, denying that he tried to kiss the woman and stating that he had no sexual motive in mind.
Questioned about the testimony of another witness – who testified that Salmond sexually assaulted her in 2014, also at Bute House – the court heard that he had been working on an important speech late at night when she joined him in his private sitting room to help. According to him, at no time was there any physical contact between them – other than him “tapping her on the nose” before he went to bed. He agreed that he had told the witness a sexual story about a journalist and a previous press officer, but that she had not seemed to be at all upset about this.
Later, Gordon Jackson QC asked Salmond about another charge he is facing – again involving a woman who cannot be named for legal reasons who testified that the former First Minister kissed her on the mouth and sexually touched her, without consent. Asked if he had ever done this, the accused said “no”, adding that these were in public places and there were “lots of lots and people there, apart from anything else, it would be insane… these claims are a fabrication”. He told the court that one of the claims – that he had assaulted the woman on the dance floor of a club – “makes no sense whatsoever, it’s not true” and that “she’s encouraged five other people to make claims against me”.
Jackson then asked if the former SNP leader had engaged in the official complaints process about him, instigated by the Scottish Government. “To an extent,” he replied. Salmond told the court that he had met with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and others to discuss the issue. He described the meeting as “about a serious subject” but “amicable”. At the time of the meeting, he did not know there was a police investigation ongoing, he added.
The defence advocate then turned to the testimony of another witness. Salmond agreed that he had once kissed the woman goodnight, but that it was not a sexual kiss. He was asked about an evening when they had been working late together at Bute House. As the heating had broken down in the sitting room, he suggested that they go to his bedroom upstairs where there was a gas fire. Salmond told the court that he poured two glasses of Chinese liqueur and that they were both “tipsy.” He said that they sat on the bed and “collapsed into a sleeping cuddle”. He added: “I don’t know why… it shouldn’t have happened.”
The politician said that they both remained fully dressed and that, after a short time, the woman said “this is a very bad idea”. He said he had agreed, that they said goodnight and the woman left. “It was a cuddle, my arms and hands were around her… there was no struggle,” he told the court.
The jury heard that he had later apologised to the woman after a discussion with a senior member of his staff. “I was First Minister, we were tipsy, it shouldn’t have happened, I put her in an embarrassing position,” he said. “I have never attempted non-consensual sexual relations in my life.”
With regards to a woman who has alleged that he attempted to rape her, Salmond told the court that he did have “sexual contact” with her, but that it was consensual and it did not occur when she said it had.
Salmond said: “We both accepted it was not a good idea and we parted as friends… it was just two old friends that had went too far.” He added that neither party was naked and no sex took place. “We both agreed no damage had been done and it should be put behind us.”
As the day progressed, Salmond – dressed in a dark suit – told the jury that one of his accusers was not telling the truth because of a political grudge.
He told the court that she was not at a dinner at his official residence with a celebrity, which she had earlier testified preceded an alleged sexual assault. “She didn’t tell that story at all until three years later,” he said. Asked what motive the woman might have for not telling the truth, Salmond suggested it might be because he had refused to support her for a political position she was interested in.
Under cross-examination by Alec Prentice QC, for the Crown, Salmond denied that he “inspired a sense of fear” among staff, but agreed that “some people have said they were intimidated… but this was not a universal belief”. He told the court that he had been surprised to hear claims that there had been an arrangement made to stop female staff working alone with him late at night.
Asked about another alleged incident at Bute House which he later apologised for, the accused said that “no one thought there was any level of criminality” and that he had once accidentally kissed the woman involved on the lips rather than the cheek because “that’s just something that happens sometimes”. With regards to testimony that he spoken to another woman about a sexual story, Salmond accepted this was “perhaps inappropriate” but said that it had to be judged in context. “You were alone with her, telling her a story about a penis,” Prentice said.
Alex Salmond denies all of the charges. The trial continues.