THE First Minister, Alex Salmond, today resisted calls from the leader of Scottish Labour and her Tory and Lib Dem counterparts, to reveal whether his phone is suspected of having been hacked by the News of the World newspaper.
At First Minister’s Questions - which took place today as opposed to its usual, Thursday slot, because of tomorrow’s local government elections – Salmond was responding to a Westminster committee report which yesterday concluded that media mogul, Rupert Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.
Murdoch closed News of the World in July, published by his News Corporation, amid allegations of phone hacking. In its wake, a judicial inquiry into press standards is being overseen by Lord Justice Leveson. There are ongoing police investigations also.
On Sunday, it was revealed that former First Minister, Jack McConnell, is believed to have been a victim of phone hacking. Yesterday, it was then reported that Salmond aide – the journalist-turned-MSP, Joan McAlpine – may have also been hacked.
Salmond – who has been frequently criticised for his own relationship with Murdoch – stated he is due to appear at the Leveson Inquiry next month.
He flatly blanked Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont’s question – and those of Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie – whether his phone had been hacked, insodoing rejecting calls for an inquiry to be launched in Scotland.
Lamont challenged Salmond: “Is it the truth that the First Minister’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch is preventing any real scrutiny of News International’s activities in Scotland?
“When the phone hacking scandal broke, the First Minister claimed: ‘This was a London problem.’ Well, this is now and truly on the First Minister’s doorstep. And it is time we had a proper inquiry here in Scotland that investigates who else has been hacked and the full extent of the media influence over politicians and government.
“A former First Minister has been hacked. An aide to the current First Minister has been hacked. Has the First Minister himself been hacked? And why is he blocking a Scottish inquiry into the activities of his old friend, Rupert Murdoch?”
Salmond replied: “We can perhaps get on to the real nub of the issue and I think it is time the chamber realised the full seriousness of what is intending to be done in Scotland. We have a live police inquiry in Scotland at the present moment. That inquiry is up to 40 officers working on it. It is a huge commitment of resource by Strathclyde Police.”
He went on to say there is no reason for people to be sceptical of the investigation. And that the police inquiry has primacy, including over any committee of the Scottish Parliament, that any witness would have to be warned against incrimination, and that anyone subject to adverse publicity in a parliamentary inquiry could then quote Article Six of the European Convention of Human Rights and use that in their defence in a future criminal inquiry.
“In other words,” continued Salmond, “there could be a significant risk that a criminal investigation and criminal inquiry would be compromised. It is vital that people in this chamber understand that now there is a real police inquiry taking place in Scotland.”
He went on to say that even the Leveson Inquiry – a judicial inquiry – has to take care when it comes to exploring issues surrounding a police inquiry.
He added: “I shall be absolutely delighted next month to go to Leveson and account for my contacts with News International and News Corporation over the years [five over five years, he later said]. I am not certain that members of the Labour Party will have such a comfortable experience.”
Lamont questioned whether any of what she had just been told was believable, given all the various inquiries and investigations taking place, which she said “are not incompatible, except in the First Minister’s own head”.