The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has told the Leveson Inquiry into Press Standards that while he does not believe his phone was hacked into by the News of the World newspaper, he does believes his bank account might have been illegally accessed by The Observer newspaper.
Giving evidence to the inquiry this afternoon, he said: “I have no evidence that my own phone has been hacked,” and that he doesn't expect to be contacted by the police since the investigation seems to have been completed.
But he went on to say: “What I can say is that I believe that my bank account was accessed by The Observer newspaper sometime in 1999. And my reason for believing that is that I was informed by a former Observer journalist who gave me a fairly exact account of what was in my bank account.”
He then explained he had bought gifts for his young nieces from a shop in Linlithgow called Fun & Games, adding that it had “caused great anticipation and hope in The Observer investivation unit because they believed that, perhaps, Fun & Games was more than a conventional toy shop”.
Over the last few weeks, Salmond had been under pressure – by opposition leaders and in the media – to reveal whether or not he had been contacted by police, with a suspicion his phone might have been hacked, as has been reportedly the case with other prominent Scots, including former First Minister, Jack McConnell.
A spokesperson for the Observer's publisher, Guardian News & Media, said: “Mr Salmond first raised the matter of an alleged unauthorised access of his bank account with the Observer's Editor last year. The allegation was that a journalist working for the Observer had accessed his bank details in 1999.
“As we explained to him last year, on the basis of the information he had given us, we have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate his allegation. As our response to him at the time made clear, we take this allegation very seriously and if he is able to provide us with any more information we will investigate further.”
Later, Salmond said “No” to the question whether he had leaked to the launch issue of The Scottish Sun on Sunday the possible date of an upcoming referendum on Scotland's constitutional future, taking place in the Autumn 2014. He said that various events, the clocks changing, etc meant that only two or three Saturdays for a possible vote were realistic options.
During the session, Salmond confirmed he supported a bid by Sun owner, Rupert Murdoch, to take a controlling stake in satelliite broadcaser, BSkyB. But he said it was on the basis of jobs – protecting and perhaps investing in more – BSkyB being one of Scotland's major employers. He said: “I was in favour of what benefited the Scottish economy. Remember, I have no responsibility for broadcasting policy, I have no responsibility for plurality in the press, but I do have a responsibility for jobs and investment in Scotland. That is my statutory responsibility.”
To the suggestion that editorial support of Salmond from The Scottish Sun might be linked to him supporting the bid for BSkyB, the First Minister said there was no quid pro quo.
The Leveson Inquiry was set up following allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World, which was closed down last year because of them.