Ex-diplomat took care not to identify women in Alex Salmond trial, court told

A former diplomat knew the names of the complainers in the Alex Salmond trial and took great care not to identify them on his blog, his lawyer has argued.

Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, faces a contempt of court hearing after posting about Mr Salmond’s trial.

The former first minister was cleared at the High Court in Edinburgh of 13 sexual assault charges involving nine women following a trial last year.

Mr Murray attended two days of the case in March 2020, sitting in the public gallery, and wrote about it on his website.

At a virtual hearing on the contempt proceedings at the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, before Lord Justice Clark Lady Dorrian on Wednesday, the Crown argued that information Mr Murray posted on his blog could lead to jigsaw identification of the women involved, breaching a contempt of court order and creating a substantial risk of prejudicing the trial.

However, his lawyer John Scott QC argued Mr Murray already knew the names of the women and went to great lengths to keep their identities hidden.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond

Mr Scott said: “(Mr Murray) was aware of the names of the complainers, even when there was no court order regarding them. But he said it would not be responsible journalism to have named them.

“The Crown appears to say there must be a deliberate campaign to drop enough hints so that the complainers can be identified.

“There is a great deal of evidence showing he was not someone who was fixated on naming the complainers and dropping hints to identify.

“The fact alone is that he knew about the names and if he wanted to name them, he could have done so.”

Mr Scott said the Crown contacted Mr Murray over an article in January 2020 prior to Mr Salmond’s trial starting, but did not demand he take it down.

Mr Murray viewed the contact as “inappropriate censorship, as opposed to welcome advice”, his lawyer said.

Lady Dorrian also questioned why the case against Mr Murray was brought after Mr Salmond’s trial.

She said: “Both articles published were in advance of the trial. If the Crown was of the view these articles created a substantial risk, it seems strange the Crown did not take action at that time.”

Alex Prentice QC, advocate depute, said: “I accept that that is factually correct and a matter that the court can take into account while assessing this.”

However, Mr Prentice said he still believed there was a risk of identification.

He said: “In my submission, the respondent argues that it is limited to the public in general, but one must consider it could be potentially much more distressing for someone in a working environment to work out the identity of a person in circumstances such as those that occurred in this case.”

Mr Scott argued this interpretation is too wide, saying: “If the Crown argument is correct, one wonders how anything would be reported at all. Nothing at all could really be published.

Alex Salmond court case
Alex Salmond court case

“In any situation, there will be some people who know the complainers – members of immediate family, work colleagues.

“In any case, there will be members of the community who have some pieces of the jigsaw.

“If it’s people who have particular knowledge, perhaps knowledge imparted by the complainers themselves, there may be a category of people who have bits of the jigsaw and finding out – for example – that an allegation came from a particular place… that will then narrow the field.

“It requires greater care for anyone seeking to report responsibly but it is not by any means straightforward. It might be possible for good faith errors to be made there.

“Jigsaws come with varying complexities. A 500-piece puzzle is a very different proposition to a 12-piece puzzle of Peppa Pig.

“While some information in the public domain may be pieced together by those determined to do so, the risk may be relatively remote.

“There is no agreed path for the court to find there was a risk of jigsaw identification. There is no safe path through it.

“What is not accepted is that it is extensive information here. And what is accepted and agreed is there was not enough to safely do that and to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that this was contempt.”

A written judgment will be published in due course.