A FORMER diplomat has been sentenced to eight months in prison for a contempt of court in relation to the Alex Salmond trial.

Craig Murray, 62, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, attended two days of Mr Salmond’s trial in March 2020 in the public gallery and wrote about it on his website.

Judges later ruled he was in contempt of court relating to material capable of identifying four complainers.

In a virtual sentencing, Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian said Murray knew there were court orders giving the women anonymity in Mr Salmond's trial yet he was “relishing” the potential disclosure of their identities.

She said Murray deliberately risked jigsaw identification and revealing complainers’ identities was “abhorrent”.

She said it was “particularly so, given the enormous publicity which the case in question attracted and continues to attract”.

The former first minister was cleared at his trial at the High Court in Edinburgh of 13 sexual assault charges involving nine women following his trial.

In December last year, Mr Murray won around a fifth of the vote in an SNP ballot to be the party's president. 

Murray’s offending blog posts and tweets were written over a period of a month and remained online, unredacted, despite the blogger being told they could potentially lead to the identification of women who had made complaints about Mr Salmond.

Lady Dorrian said today: “It appears from the posts and articles that he was in fact relishing the task he set himself, which was essentially to allow the identities of complainers to be discerned – which he thought was in the public interest – in a way which did not attract sanction.”

She added: “These actions create a real risk that complainers may be reluctant to come forward in future cases, particularly where the case may be high profile or likely to attract significant publicity.

“The actions strike at the heart of the fair administration of justice.

“Notwithstanding the previous character of the respondent and his health issues, we do not think we can dispose of this case other than by way of a sentence of imprisonment.”

Mr Murray was initially told he had 48 hours to hand himself in, but after a challenge from his defence counsel, Roddy Dunlop QC, this was extended to three weeks so Murray can lodge an appeal, although he has to surrender his passport.

Murray immediately issued a conspiratorial tweet that the three-week passport surrender was "to make sure" that he couldn't testify in Spain about CIA spying.

Last Friday, in a virtual hearing, the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian sitting with Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull was urged not to jail Mr Murray.

Mr Dunlop said there was little indication that potential 'jigsaw identification' through Mr Murray's articles and other information in the public domain had led to actual identification, and there was nothing amounting to actual interference in the trial.

In a mitigation submission, Mr Dunlop said Murray was a man of “impeccable character” and previously “untarnished reputation”, and said it is no exaggeration to say the retired diplomat is already suffering “significant punishment” from the impact of the case.

Mr Dunlop said sending Murray to prison would be “harsh to the point of being disproportionate”, and he urged judges to deal with the matter by way of a fine.

He said: “Allowing that the finding of contempt has been ruled by this court to be justified, the question is whether, given all the circumstances, that justification extends yet further to countenancing imprisonment, to taking a retired diplomat with an exemplary background away from his wife, his 11-year-old son, and his baby.

“For what purpose? The response might well be pour decourager les autres (discourage others). If that is the purpose, job done. Mr Murray’s blogging is inevitably hamstrung by the ruling itself, the decision is and has been widely publicised.

“If anyone out there thinks that playing with fire in the field of jigsaw identification is a zero sum game, their views have been disabused by the ruling this court has already made.”

Sentencing was deferred to allowed the judges to consider the complexities of the case, including submissions on Mr Murray's poor health.

Following the sentencing, former SNP justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said it was a “sad day for Scottish justice” and in a subsequently-deleted Tweet, wrote: “There’s a presumption against sentences of less than a year.

“In a case where an offender isn’t violent, dangerous or a threat to communities a sentence less than that breached the intentions.

“Time for the presumption to be made mandatory.”

In March, Lady Dorrian, the judge in Mr Salmond's criminal trial, said articles published by Murray on January 18, March 11, 18, 19 and April 3, and tweets on January 19 and April 2 last year "must be considered to constitute contempt of court, relating to material capable of identifying four different complainers.

“We therefore make a finding of contempt of court."