ALEX Salmond has cast further doubt on appearing in person before the Holyrood inquiry into his legal fight with the Scottish Government in an escalating war of words with its convener.

The former First Minister's lawyer said his client feared that telling the whole truth to MSPs under oath would leave him “in jeopardy of criminal prosecution”.

Mr Salmond also insisted he would not attend Holyrood on Tuesday, as requested, as it went against the Presiding Officer’s request to hold virtual committee meetings because of Covid.

He has asked for his oral evidence to be delayed until February 16.

In a letter to inquiry convener Linda Fabiani, Mr McKie said she had failed to mention the Presiding Officer's request, issued on January 8, when she invited Mr Salmond to appear in person earlier this week.

Asking him to turn up in breach of parliamentary guidelines was "wholly unacceptable conduct" towards a cooperative witness, he said. 

He also accused Ms Fabiani of "discourtesy" after she rebuked Mr Salmond for a lack of respect this week, and the inquiry of sending his client "hostile correspondence". 

He went on: “Our client asks you to reflect on your responsibilities to witnesses you invite to your proceedings, particularly when they are private citizens, invited to assist you in your proceedings. 

“Regardless, our client intends to follow the advice of the Presiding Officer and the Corporate Body. 

"He is perfectly willing to travel to your Committee meeting as long as it can be completed safely and can be properly regarded as being for work or an essential purpose in conformity with  the regulations.

"This is not a question of personal preference, it is about following the Parliament’s own advice on in-person meetings. More helpful is the view expressed that only an in-person meeting is suitable for this evidence. We agree.”

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The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government botched a probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018 by two civil servants.

The former First Minister had the exercise set aside in a judicial review as it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government flaw that cost taxpayers £512,000 for his legal bill.

Mr Salmond, who was later tried and acquitted on sexual assault charges, has said he wants to present evidence obtained for his trial defence, but has been threated with prosecution by the Crown Office if he shares the confidential material. 

Mr McKie queried how Mr Salmond could faithfully swear to tell the full truth under oath while also being forced to withhold information by the threat of prosecution.

He said: “Our client is currently unable to discharge in full his responsibility to give complete evidence to your committee and its members without fear of prosecution.

“For example, if our client is asked quite reasonably by your Committee about his awareness of the existence of documents or other material relevant to your Inquiry how is it proposed he replies, while remaining faithful to his oath? 

“We understand the position to be that our client must tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ under threat of a charge of perjury if he does not do so. Is that your understanding?

“If so, how do you propose he does so when that inevitably involves reference to material in the criminal proceedings and when doing so leaves him open to prosecution? 

“This, again, is a matter on which we sought clarity on many previous occasions. Time is now short, however, and we need your official guidance.”

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He urged the committee to obtain the material from the Crown Office to help.

Mr McKie also took issue with Ms Fabiani this week accusing Mr Salmond of failing to show the inquiry respect in the way he had shared evidence to it with the media.

He said Ms Fabiani’s tone of “disappointment” appeared to be “for public consumption” and reminded her the iniquity was about the Government’s actions not Mr Salmond.

He said: “Our client is extremely disappointed to receive what he considers hostile correspondence which has often failed to address legitimate concerns and queries raised by  him from the outset of this process.

“It is not our client whose actions you are to consider or report on.

“He is uniquely placed to help your inquiry, having endured an unlawful process instigated  (and  conceded) by the government. 

“He has told you where to recover evidence to help you and also to ensure that, when he comes to give his evidence, it can be given as openly and fully as possible without fear of him breaching court orders or, worse still, prosecution. 

“You have given him no reassurance or assistance on any of these matters other than to insist very publicly that he turns up in breach of parliamentary guidelines. That is wholly unacceptable  conduct towards a witness who is a private citizen and who has offered unprecedented help and  co-operation to your Inquiry at his own expense. 

“We ask you to reflect on that before issuing further public criticism of him. 

“Finally, your letter references a lack of ‘respect’ on the part of our client. That is unhelpful and unfair. In fact, it is our client who has been left repeatedly disappointed at the lack of courtesy shown to him for many months throughout this process.”

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A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “While there is rightly a strong presumption against committees meeting in person, the Presiding Officer understands that there may be a small number of circumstances where essential committee business cannot be effectively undertaken by any means other than meeting in person.

“As the Convener made clear to Mr Salmond’s solicitor, the Committee would be happy to work with Mr Salmond to find a way to allow him to give evidence in a safe and secure way.

“The Committee will meet in private next Tuesday to consider its work programme including Mr Salmond’s latest response. However, the Committee is clear that all evidence to it must comply with the relevant legal obligations.”