Fri 7 May 2021

James Doleman reports on the case of Craig Murray, who wrote about the former Scottish First Minister’s trial last year

A former British ambassador and prominent Scottish writer and blogger is facing up to two years in prison over his reporting of Alex Salmond’s trial last year.

At a virtual hearing, before three senior Scottish judges, the crown alleged that Craig Murray, 62, had, via his blog and Twitter feed, created a “substantial risk of prejudicing the trial” and that he had published information likely to identify the women who had made accusations of sexual assault against the former Scottish First Minister.

The Advocate Depute, Alec Prentice QC, told the hearing that Murray was also responsible for comments made by others on his blog as these had not been properly moderated.

Responding for the defence, advocate John Scott said that his client was a well-known campaigner for open justice, an issue he said Murray has a “sincere and genuine commitment to”. He also noted that the former British diplomat had known the names of the women before a court order was issued banning their publication and could have legally named them, but had decided not to. (Unlike in England, where it is an offence to publish the name of any alleged victims of sexual assault, in Scotland it takes a specific court order to prohibit this).

The two sides disagreed on the issue of “jigsaw identification”, with the crown arguing that this should be interpreted broadly and that it could therefore even include the publishing of information that would allow someone who worked in the same building as the complainant to identify them.

The defence responded by arguing that this interpretation was incorrect as, on that reasoning, it would be “hard to see how anything could be published” about a sexual assault case as there would always be someone with some pieces of the jigsaw who could possibly discover a complainant’s identity. “It would make even responsible reporting impossible,” Scott said. 

Judge Lady Dorian noted that there could be an alleged assault at a building society and even reporting the location could lead to some people to identifying the complainant.

At the end of the hearing, the three-judge panel said it would retire to consider its verdict, which will be delivered in writing as soon as possible.

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