KENNY MacAskill has claimed that “dark forces” were involved in the trial of Alex Salmond.

The former Justice Secretary said there was an “orchestrated campaign” by senior people in the Scottish Government and SNP who wanted Mr Salmond’s head “on a platter”.

He accused prosecutors of pursuing charges that were “utter bunkum”, and the police of mounting an inquiry of “gargantuan proportions” while complaining about tight budgets.

The East Lothian SNP MP also claimed the downfall of Mr Salmond’s lead lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC, may have been part of a wider conspiracy against the former First Minister.

Mr Jackson resigned as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates barely a week after the trial when a video emerged of him reportedly naming two of Mr Salmond’s accusers on a train, despite a court order granting them anonymity for life.

Writing in the new issue of the Scottish Left Review, Mr MacAskill said what happened to the QC seemed “more than accidental” and his “real crime” was representing Mr Salmond.

“It certainly seems that, as well as the poison and prejudice of a few, there were other ‘dark forces’ operating.”

READ MORE: Jim Sillars says SNP may have to be replaced by new independence party

The phrase ‘dark forces’ is sometimes used about the state security services.

It was made famous by former royal butler Paul Burrell, who falsely claimed the Queen said it to him after Princess Diana’s death in 1997.

Labour and the Tories accused Mr MacAskill of paranoia.

Despite releasing Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from jail in 2009, Mr MacAskill claimed Mr Salmond’s trial had a higher profile than the prosecution of the Lockerbie bomber.

He said: “The Alex Salmond case was entirely unprecedented. For sure there have been major Scottish criminal trials from Oscar Slater through Lockerbie to numerous recent ones. But despite the notoriety of many and the horror of their crimes, none had the profile of Alex Salmond.”

Mr MacAskill then compared Mr Salmond to Charles Stewart Parnell, the great Irish nationalist leader felled by an adultery scandal in 1890.

Not since Parnell “had there been the chance to bring down a major figure in an independence movement and no doubt with it to damage the cause.

“The fall-out from it is going to reverberate for some time within the SNP and - as a result - in both the independence movement and Scottish politics as a whole.”

Mr Salmond, 65, was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault after a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last month, and later suggested he was the victim of a politically motivated plot.

He is now writing a book about the case to reveal evidence which was disallowed in court for legal reasons.

One of his supporters, his former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, has said the book will be like a “volcanic eruption” for the SNP, and the “rot” in the party may be so bad that the independence movement may need to set up a new party in it place.

In his article, Mr MacAskill claims the criminal case against Mr Salmond was whipped up by government and SNP figures after the former FM humiliated the Scottish Government by winning a civil action against it in 2019, related to a botched sexual misconduct inquiry.

“And so it came to be that it morphed from a civil case into a criminal trial.”

Mr MacAskill said the actions of the Crown and Police Scotland “seemed to offer assistance to one side only rather than acting in the public interest for all”.

He said much of the case against Mr Salmond seemed to be “offered up to Police Scotland on a platter by senior government and SNP sources; a prelude for the head they ultimately wanted to see placed upon it.

READ MORE: The Alex Salmond trial is over but backlash yet to come 

“Senior government and SNP sources sought to offer up, if not conjure up, even more evidence.

“Despite all these super sleuths assisting a police investigation before and during it, that seemed never to be questioned by Police. They seemed to treat it as the Gospel truth rather than evidence that required to be investigated given its source.

“Nor did they put any constraints upon the resources expended. Despite occurring at a time when that organisation was pleading potential financial ruin, reducing officers and complaining of insufficient resource to do the day job, an enquiry of gargantuan proportions was unleashed.

“The country was scoured from top to bottom, hundreds were interviewed. His entire adult life of over 40 years seemed trawled over.

“As a defence agent of 20 years standing and a former Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government, I’ve known major police enquiries but never of such magnitude other than for the most heinous of crimes and dangerous of offenders. Despite all that, what they turned up was pretty flimsy, indeed, and so it was ultimately seen by the jury.

“I also had chats along the way with very senior police sources who told me how poor they thought the case was. Yet despite that and in all those circumstances, on Police Scotland plodded still.

“Some charges were utter bunkum and the likes of which I’ve never seen in 40 years involvement in the courts; and certainly not in the High Court.”

He went on: “The poison that had flowed before and even during the trial has continued unabated. Amongst their victims was Gordon Jackson QC whose real ‘crime’ seems to have been to have represented Salmond.

“Moreover, the manner in which he was brought down seems more than accidental, and yet was matched by a few other incidents during the case. It certainly seems that, as well as the poison and prejudice of a few, there were other ‘dark forces’ operating.”

The phrase ‘dark forces’ was used by Paul Burrell in 2002.

He told a tabloid newspaper that the Queen had looked him in the eye and said: “There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge.”

The claim fuelled conspiracy theories about foul play in the Paris car crash that killed Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed.

Mr Burrell later said the Queen had never used the phrase “dark forces” after all.

Mr MacAskill is scathing about the press, who he says relished a criminal case that provided “a bounty never before been seen by the Scottish media”.

Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said: “Those who believe in ‘dark forces’ are usually found in the murky depths of social media promoting conspiracy theories, not on the green benches of the Commons.

“Kenny MacAskill is a former Justice Secretary and sitting MP and should remember that was elected to champion the people of East Lothian, not his former party leader.”

Tory MSP Annie Wells said: “The former justice secretary’s intervention in this case is particularly unwelcome. The paranoid reference to ‘dark forces’ is hardly befitting of a former Justice Secretary and sitting MP.

“Quite what Mr MacAskill’s motivation is for this relentless and embarrassing defence of his former boss remains a mystery.

“It certainly shows that the rift within the SNP is deeper than ever.”

The Scottish Government and SNP were asked for comment.