PETER Murrell, the SNP chief executive and husband of Nicola Sturgeon, will today be quizzed by the Holyrood inquiry examining the Scottish Government’s botched handling of complaints made against Alex Salmond.
Leaked text messages revealed in September showed that, on the day after the former first minister first appeared in court in relation to criminal charges, Murrell said it was a “good time to be pressurising” police and that the “more fronts he [Salmond] is having to firefight on the better for all complainers”.
The following month Murrell wrote to the committee carrying out the probe and said he had not expressed himself well in the messages.
He said the SNP was contacted by individuals who had specific, personal questions in relation to the criminal case and his intention was to advise that their questions be addressed to the police and not the party.
“I acknowledge that I did not express myself well but I suggest that in the context of such a criminal case, directing people to the police was the only responsible thing to advise,” he said.
He said his “intended meaning was that any and all complaints should be appropriately investigated”, but added that: “I would wish on reflection to have expressed myself more appropriately”.
MSPs on the committee are likely to have further questions about the messages.
The text messages, obtained by the Scottish Sun newspaper, were said to have been passed anonymously in September to SNP MP Kenny MacAskill, who passed them to the Holyrood inquiry.
The inquiry is examining what went wrong with the Government’s action which was deemed unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” after Salmond raised a successful civil legal action against it.
The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault in a separate criminal trial in March this year.
Murrell sent the alleged messages on January 25, 2019 – the day after Salmond’s first appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in connection with the criminal case.
The first message said: “Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions. Report now with the PF on charges which leaves police twiddling their thumbs.
“So good time to be pressurising them. Would be good to know Met looking at events in London.”
The second message, sent 80 minutes later, said: “TBH the more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers. So CPS action would be a good thing.”
In written evidence, Murrell has told the committee he first became aware official complaints had been made about Salmond when the allegations were made public in August 2018.
He said he “knew about” the earlier meetings between his wife and Salmond at their home on April 2 and July 14, 2018 and he had “the sense that something serious was being discussed”.
However, he added: “Nicola told me she couldn’t discuss the details. The nature of Nicola’s job means that when she tells me she can’t discuss something, I don’t press it.”
Committee members are also expected to probe Murrell on his knowledge of these meetings.
In her written evidence, the First Minister said she had “no communication with the SNP” on the subject of the allegations, other than approving the party’s public comments after the matter became public in August 2018.
She added: “My husband was obviously aware of Mr Salmond’s presence in our home on April 2 and July 14, 2018 but he was not present at the meetings and I did not share the detail with him.”
Prior to his current job, Murrell worked in Salmond’s constituency office in Banff and Buchan.
He is regarded as one of the UK’s most astute electoral strategists and has been a constant in the party’s success.
However, there are concerns among some in the SNP the Sturgeon/Murrell axis places too much power in the couple’s hands.