IT IS SO EASY TO DISGUISE THE TRUTH
In a corrupt society where the system is geared to protect those at the top and important organisations all cooperate to do so. Organisations like the Government, the Crown Office and the police all working in tandem. So far in Scotland we have been lucky and not faced the full impact of this for the sole reason that the court system is either based on juries or honest judges. Thus far there is no evidence the judges are involved and are anything other than fair and just.
Let me give you a recent example of how it works. As Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans faced questioning at the Parliamentary Inquiry she constantly pushed the fact that she followed legal advice all the way. What she did not say was that a lot of that legal advice was coming from James Wolffe, and the Crown Office, the Lord Advocate who is a Government Minister, who sits on the Scottish Cabinet and reports to Nicola Sturgeon. Others at the Crown Office are also involved, more of that later.
The first problem with this, is an obvious one, every time Leslie Evans was in difficulty she would hide behind the excuse “I was following legal advice. When asked what that was she would then reply “I am not at liberty to say”. This of course is possible as the Scottish Government has refused to furnish the full legal advice and she would not be allowed to “break a confidence”.
For most of the hearing this was the repetitive tactic but things then got a bit more complicated as the Scottish Government required to hire external legal advice, that is legal counsel independent of Government to represent their defence against the Judicial Review proceedings where Alex Salmond was alleging the procedures and investigation carried out into the initial allegations was totally unfair, flawed and biased against him.
As the questions moved on to this aspect the standard defence of “I followed legal advice” was now much more difficult to sustain. It was widely known, not just in legal circles, that the two external legal counsel had advised the Government that their defence was not sustainable and that if the Government wished to persist on the existing basis they would have to do so without them. This was a dramatic and principled step by Roddy Dunlop and Christine O’Neill. It was at this point in January 2019 , facing a walkout by their own Independent counsel that the Government finally surrendered. They took a roasting from Lord Pentland who expressed his displeasure with the Government’s conduct of the Judicial Review awarding Alex Salmond £500,000 to cover his costs. This was on the highest, punitive scale possible.A similar or even greater amount was of course squandered by the Scottish Government on the vindictive action, which was more designed to publicly embarrass Alex Salmond than to win a case they had been advised, by their external counsel months before they were likely to lose.
When Leslie Evans was asked about what the external legal advice said about all this she always ignored the word external and a new word was substituted “composite legal advice” meaning that this would keep the internal legal advice still included in her answer. This was more than a little embarrassing as the committee members saw through her game and repeatedly asked her over and over again about the external advice. She persisted always leading with the words “the composite legal advice said”. Eventually, as members insisted they wanted the answer about what the external legal view said she gave up and finally admitted “I cannot tell you that” which highlighted the extended slippery eel tactics to avoid admitting it did not agree with the internal legal advice, and lit that difference up like Christmas lights for all observers. It was of course a nonsense, the Scottish Government, as the client who engaged that external legal advice was always free to divulge its content .”if they wanted to”. They didn’t of course, their view was that keeping as many boxes of dynamite hidden from public view is their best way forward, even if it makes them look guilty as sin, it is still better than providing documentary proof of it.
Amid all the investigations and close scrutiny there is one “player”whose full role remains not fully clear and that “player” is the Crown Office whose role throughout has been difficult. To say the least it has highlighted the very conflicted roles the Lord Advocate finds himself in. Conflicts that will almost certainly lead to very significant changes being introduced to create much clearer division between Government and the Justice and Court System in the future.
It is fair to say 2020 was not a good year for the Crown Office and with 2021 shaping up to pile more pressure on top as well. A series of now openly admitted “malicious prosecutions” has resulted in huge unwarranted costs and damaging settlements which run to many tens of millions of pounds. As someone said to me recently it’s not often anyone can blow a third or more of your department’s entire budget on a series of huge mistakes and still be there”.
Now it is easy to blame all this on James Wolffe, the Lord Advocate but he has not been alone in creating this series of cataclysmic disasters, the Crown Agent and Chief Executive David Harvie must be in the frame as well. I have to confess to not having come across his name before until my sources introduced his name to me and therefore, at their suggestion I paid him a bit more attention. They suggested I have a look to his early career, a period not extensively covered in his biography published on the Crown Office website. They tell me he was for a time an employee of the security services, he later worked for a time in Paisley (to his credit) before joining the criminal investigation team into the Lockerbie Bombing, attending the entire high security trial in The Netherlands before spending some years in the Foreign Office.All things considered my sources suggest I should pay more attention to the second word in his job title than the first. He is of course the Crown Agent at the Crown Office. Word is he leads an increasingly nervous and disillusioned staff with some reluctant to put their names to correspondence relating to these controversial matters,
I mention all this because there was one item in Leslie Evans evidence that deserves more scrutiny. Throughout her evidence she went to great lengths to insist every action she took was taken in line with all legal advice and entirely compliant with the rules and regulations set out in the Scottish Government procedures. However when under pressure from questioners about why she reported the complaints to the police, despite the complainants having made clear she did not have their approval to do so, she slipped up and revealed she didn’t send them to the police as the procedures and rules stipulated she was required to do, if potential criminal activity was involved. Instead she sent the complaints to the Crown Office direct. She ordered her staff to send them to, wait for it, Crown Agent David Harvie.
This is significant, it is the Crown Office role to examine evidence after a police inquiry, to determine whether to prosecute or not. It is not intended to work in reverse where the Crown Office instruct the police to investigate and according to newspaper reports promise the police “unprecedented resources” for any investigation. This must put the police in a very unusual difficult position and pre judges the issue to an enormous extent. It perhaps explains the huge police efforts and over 700 “face to face interviews” with over 400 people that wasted huge amounts of public money but failed to find a single credible additional allegation beyond those offered up by the civil service and the “ Vietnam” plotters in the SNP. As Alex Salmond’s own Counsel Gordon Jackson noted every single one of them came from within the “political bubble”. Every one of them were of course, dismissed by the jury.
I am no legal expert but I think if the police, after interviewing 400 people, encompassing Alex Salmond’s entire life, had failed to identify another single instance of any sexual impropriety to add to the political bubble allegations I would be wanting to re-examine the original allegations thoroughly before going to court and being badly embarrassed. There were good reasons to have done so, many of the allegations were simply absurd. Others fell due to the courage of the seven woman defence witnesses who turned up in court to tell the truth and systematically destroyed the remnants of the prosecution case. Those seven had no recourse to anonymity just to honesty, truth and moral courage, the weapons of the brave.
Many of the charges would have fallen in normal circumstances long before they reached the court and would never got off the ground had it not been for the Scottish Government unlawful targeting of Alex Salmond. The police had of course previously warned the Civil Service at Holyrood that they were not qualified to carry out these potentially criminal investigations and had warned them their practices were flawed. Their warnings were ignored by the Leslie Evans gang.
It is hugely disappointing that even at these late stages the Government is still playing games with the Inquiry releasing messages the Inquiry never asked for while still refusing to hand over the ones they should ask for. The messages between Peter Murrell, Ian McCann and Sue Riddick. The ones Peter Murrell denied ever existed and which has created the fear that has led to his refusal to attend the Inquiry for further questioning. The messages he denied existed but keep him awake at night with worry about them seeing the light of day.
No matter the outcome of the Inquiries, these procedures require urgent revisiting and if not entirely scrapped, substantial amendment is required. It is a shambles, that has let all Scotland down, our Government, our justice system, our police force and of course most of all, the one innocent Party in all this, Alex Salmond
I am, as always
Yours for Scotland.
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