LONDON (Reuters) – Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, a figurehead of Scotland’s independence movement, was cleared on Monday of committing multiple sex offences against nine women after a case that led to divisions in the nationalist movement.
Salmond, 65, was found not guilty by a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh of 12 charges including attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault. A charge of sexual assault with intent to rape was found not proven.
Salmond, who led the devolved Scottish government for seven years until 2014 and helped drive growing support for Scottish independence as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), had denied any wrongdoing.
During the trial he said some of his behaviour had been inappropriate but he had not broken the law.
“Obviously above all I would like to thank my friends and family for standing by me over the last two years,” an emotional Salmond, widely credited with helping push support for secession to record levels, said outside court.
“Whatever nightmare I’ve been in over these last two years is as of nothing compared to the nightmare that every single one of us is currently living through,” he said in reference to the coronavirus crisis.
“People are dying, many more are going to die. God help us all.”
In 2018, Salmond took legal action against the Scottish devolved government, now led by his successor Nicola Sturgeon, over how it handled a complaints process against him in a sexual harassment case.
He won a judicial review in January last year over how that case was handled by the Scottish government when it conceded it had acted unlawfully in probing the harassment claims.
The case has pitted the two most popular figures in the Scottish independence movement against one another and a dispute has continued to simmer between two factions in the nationalist party.
SNP lawmaker Joanna Cherry said there needed to be an independent inquiry into how the allegations against Salmond were handled by her party.
“Those of us who know him, and indeed many of the thousands of people who have met him over the years, did not recognise the man described in the evidence,” Cherry said in a statement.
“This verdict of acquittal is the culmination of two very lengthy investigations by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland and two court cases.
“In both cases, Mr Salmond has been vindicated and serious questions now arise about the background to these cases especially given the considerable sums of public money which have been expended.”
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