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Holyrood harassment committee 'disappointed and angry' over information leaks

Linda Fabiani MSP - Image credit: Scottish Parliament

Holyrood harassment committee 'disappointed and angry' over information leaks

The chair of a Holyrood committee looking into the handling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond has said she is “deeply disappointed and angry” that details of private committee discussions have been made public.

Linda Fabiani spoke out following media reports that Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, was confirmed as the author of leaked WhatsApp messages in which he called for the police to be pressured on investigating Salmond.

Fabiani said that she had raised the matter of leaks of committee business during a meeting on Tuesday, reminding members that “trust in the process, and trust in institutions is at the heart of this inquiry”.

The committee is investigating what went wrong with a Scottish Government probe into complaints of harassment against Salmond, after the government was found by judicial review to have acted unlawfully and was forced to award Salmond over £500,000 in legal expenses.

According to reports in the Daily Record newspaper on Tuesday morning, Murrell - who is married to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon - had confirmed he sent the leaked WhatsApp messages saying it was a “good time to be pressurising” the police.

Committee convener Fabiani said: “I am deeply disappointed and angry that details about private discussions of the Committee have made their way into the public domain. I raised this with the Committee this morning. 

“This Committee must be trusted. Trust in process, and trust in institutions is at the heart of this inquiry and it is vital that in carrying out our work we are able to have trust in each other to help us undertake robust scrutiny of the evidence before us.

“Against this background, we have today had a comprehensive discussion about our approach to the inquiry and we are all agreed about the importance and integrity of our work and the way we carry that out. We have an important job to complete. I am determined that we do this.

“At our meeting today, we agreed the way forward including publishing our next batch of evidence tomorrow [Wednesday], as well as agreeing to begin evidence taking on the judicial review from late October onwards.”

The messages were made public after SNP MP Kenny MacAskill said he received an anonymous document claiming to show messages sent by Murrell in January 2019, on the day after Salmond was charged with sexual offences.

The first message said: “Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions... report now with the PF on charges which leaves police twiddling their thumbs. So good time to be pressurising them. Would be good to know Met looking at events in London.”

The second said: “TBH the more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers. so CPS action would be a good thing.”

The Record story says that Murrell has admitted he sent the messages and is said to regret the way he worded them.  

The committee has previously expressed frustration with the progress of its investigation so far and has met in private on several occasions in recent weeks.

It had previously said that its work was being “hampered” by witnesses’ unwillingness to hand over key documents.

Sturgeon was questioned by MSPs on her husband’s messages during FMQs last week.

At that time she said: “As I understand it, the obtaining of those messages – and the passing of them to the committee....is currently a matter of police investigation.”

The FM added: “I am not standing here – and I do not think that it is reasonable – to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done.

"Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions; call me and I will answer for myself.”

The Scottish Conservatives have now called on Sturgeon to sack Murrell, describing the messages as a “shattering, extraordinary revelation”.

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