In August 2018, in a story breaking the news of the formal complaints against Alex Salmond and the Leslie Evans investigation of them, journalist David Clegg wrote in the Daily Record:
“Acting on a tip-off, we submitted questions to the Scottish Government on October 31 last year, in a bid to ascertain if any complaints had been made about Alex Salmond during his tenure as first minister.”
In January 2019, after the Scottish Government had conceded at judicial review that Evans’s investigation of the Salmond complaints had been biased and unlawful, the Daily Record quoted Salmond’s message to his supporters:
“The Daily Record boasted of a ‘tip-off ‘ about me in October 2017. The question is from who? Perhaps we are now getting very close to finding out.”
It is now more vital than ever that we should find out, and that the inquiry should know, who provided this “tip-off” to the Daily Record.
We must find out, and the inquiry must know, how it could be that David Clegg and the Daily Record knew something about these complaints on 31 October 2017 when, so we are told, no-one in the Scottish Government, up to and including Nicola Sturgeon, had any idea about them.
There is a measure of protection for journalists and their sources in such circumstances under section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981:
“No court may require a person to disclose, nor is any person guilty of contempt of court for refusing to disclose, the source of information contained in a publication for which he is responsible, unless it be established to the satisfaction of the court that disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime.”
The inquiry is not a court but it’s still a vexed question whether it’s worthwhile for the inquiry to call David Clegg and thereby bring down on itself all of the usual howls of outrage from Scotland’s selectively indignant mainstream media.
There is, however, nothing to stop the Committee asking witnesses to eliminate themselves as the source of the tip-off, which is the kind of thing the police do as a matter of routine to enable them to focus their enquiries properly on genuine suspects.
Nicola Sturgeon, Leslie Evans (again), Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd, and of course Alex Salmond himself are all still due to appear before the inquiry, which has announced it will resume taking evidence on 27 October.
They, and all other remotely relevant witnesses, should be asked, on oath or affirmation, if they were the source of the tip-off to Clegg.