Ex-Scottish minister claims sex charges politically fabricated

Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court for trial on Monday. (AP pic)

EDINBURGH: Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond on Tuesday denied he attempted to rape a woman and claimed some of the sexual assault claims against him were fabricated for political reasons, as he gave evidence for the first time at his trial.

Salmond, who led the Scottish National Party’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign for independence, is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, charged with 13 sexual offences against nine women.

He denies the charges and his legal team has submitted special defences of consent and alibi.

The judge on Monday formally acquitted Salmond of one charge of sexual assault after prosecutors offered no evidence, reducing the total from 14 charges against 10 women.

It is alleged the offences took place at various locations across Scotland between June 2008 and November 2014, and include one charge of attempted rape at his official Edinburgh residence.

He is alleged to have repeatedly kissed a woman on the face and neck, groped her, pinned her against a wall, pulled at her clothes and stripped himself naked before trying to rape her.

The woman, referred to in court as “Woman H”, claimed Salmond also attacked her on a separate occasion in May 2014.

She has told the court she felt “hunted” by the former politician before the alleged attempted rape at Bute House in June 2014.

But in almost four hours of evidence, Salmond told his lawyer Gordon Jackson they had a consensual “sexual encounter” the previous year.

“There was then a consensual sexual liaison,” he added.

“Neither party were naked but in a state of partial undress, in terms of buttons or whatever. It shouldn’t have happened but both of us agreed it would be put behind us.”

Salmond told the jury Woman H had been one of his “biggest cheerleaders” but said she became annoyed because he had not helped her with a project.

Her account was “not true”, he said, and he rejected an assertion from prosecutor Alex Prentice that he tried to rape her.

“I didn’t,” he added.

‘Misremembered’

Earlier, Salmond said that “in general” he had no problems with female staff, although he had been “made aware” of one incident, which he said was a “sleepy cuddle” with a government official, referred to as “Woman F”, after drinking a Chinese spirit.

“I apologised. I was the first minister. She was in my bedroom. We were tipsy. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said, adding he apologised two weeks later when the matter was raised by a staff member.

Salmond told the court another one of the alleged incidents – that he asked a woman to recreate a Christmas card design of a man and a woman about to kiss under the mistletoe – was “misremembered”.

The woman – a civil servant referred to as “Woman B” – on Monday said she “felt like (she) was wrestling with an octopus” and the alleged incident left her “quite alarmed”.

Salmond on Tuesday dismissed the alleged assault as “a joke” and “high jinks”.

“It was not meant to be anything more than that,” he added.

On the allegations, Salmond said: “From where I stand now, I wish I had been more careful with people’s personal space, but there was no intention whatsoever to offend.

“But I’m of the opinion, for a variety of reasons, that events are being reinterpreted and exaggerated out of all possible proportion.”

Some of the charges against him were “fabrications” and “exaggerations”.

“There were two reasons – one is that some, not all, are fabrications, deliberate fabrications for a political purpose,” he said.

“Some are exaggerations taken out of proportion.”

Salmond, who is married and a former economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland, took over the leadership of the SNP in 1990, standing down after the failed referendum.

He was replaced by Nicola Sturgeon.