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Sat 30 May 2020
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The former First Minister of Scotland was cleared of all charges against him at Edinburgh’s High Court on Monday. Here, court reporter James Doleman shares his thoughts on covering the trial.

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It was the trial that was meant to take four weeks, in the end it took less that two. However, as we sat in court – where you normally feel at the centre of a story – it was hard not to be aware that there was something bigger, far bigger, happening outside.

At lunch each day, I noticed how the normally busy streets of central Edinburgh were getting emptier, the businesses were closing, the number of reporters covering the case dwindling.

Every morning in the press room, we counted the jury as they came into court to check that there were still 15 of them there. By the last day, there were 13 – still enough for a verdict.

That remaining 13 delivered a majority verdict of not guilty to the bulk of the charges against the former Scottish First Minster Alex Salmond, of sexual assault and attempted rape, with one being deemed – in the unique Scottish verdict – not proven.

This may not be popular to say, but I thought that the majority of the witnesses in this trial against Salmond came across as honest and credible. That is no judgement on the truth or otherwise of their evidence, but I don’t think anyone who listened to what they said, and how they said it, could simply dismiss it. 

The legal – as opposed to the moral question – was whether the politician’s actions crossed the line between conduct that was inappropriate and conduct that was criminal.

The jury decided that they did not.

In a striking moment during his closing speech, Salmond’s own counsel, the Dean of the Facility of Scottish Advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, told the jury that “I’m not here to defend him,” admitting that his behaviour towards a succession of young women had been inappropriate, but arguing that it did not meet the high bar of criminal behaviour.

Since the verdict was delivered, both mainstream and social media has been full of comment that the jury had decided that the women “lied”.

As a reporter who has sat through many court cases, that’s a very bad view. Juries make decisions for lots of reasons and it is important not to leap to conclusions over why. They may well have disbelieved the witnesses, believed some of them or just thought that the evidence wasn’t enough to be sure.

Nobody other than those 13 people know and that’s the way it should be.

The political fall-out of this decision will be profound. Accusations of a conspiracy are already flying around and a split in the Scottish National Party that was already brewing seems about to break into open civil war. We’ll see how it plays out, but it is unlikely to be pretty.

People are prosecuted and a jury decides if the charges against them are proved beyond any doubt or not. For whatever reason, this jury decided they were not so Alex Salmond was not convicted and left court a free man.

That’s the only fact that matters.


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