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GLASGOW â€”Â The chief executive of the Scottish National Party was accused on Monday of misleading an inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints against former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
Peter Murrell â€”Â who is also the husband of current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon â€”Â had been hauled before a parliamentary committee to clarify comments made during a previous session. He rejected claims that he had given contradictory answers.Â
The parliamentary inquiry, along with another official probe led by a barrister, has the potential to be explosive for the SNP and for Sturgeon.
Last month, Sturgeonâ€™s predecessor sent shockwaves through Scotlandâ€™s independence movement, accusing her of misleading an inquiry into her governmentâ€™s actions. If proven, itâ€™s a charge that could force her out of office prior to pivotal parliamentary elections in the summer at which Sturgeon hopes to bolster her mandate to hold a second independence referendum.
Salmond himself had been scheduled to appear before the parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday, but he pulled out on Monday morning after members of the Scottish parliament refused to accept evidence he had submitted.
Murrell was quizzed on whether he knew in advance of a meeting between Salmond and Sturgeon in which the former Scottish leader notified his successor of sexual assault claims against him. Murrell insisted he thought Salmond was â€œjust popping in.â€
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser questioned the 56-year-old on Murrellâ€™s past testimony that he had not been at his Glasgow home â€” where the Salmond meeting took place â€” during the meeting.Â
This, Fraser said, amounted to lying under oath, as it later emerged Murrell had arrived home while Salmond was still present â€” a claim the SNP chief â€œabsolutely refuted.â€
However, asked by Fraser â€œyes or noâ€ whether he had made a false statement, Murrell failed to answer directly.Â Â Â
Last month, Scottish Labour urged legal authorities to investigate whether Murrell had â€œperjured himselfâ€ in earlier sessions, which took place last year.Â Â
Speaking at Mondayâ€™s hearing, the partyâ€™s deputy leader Jackie Baillie pulled no punches, accusing Murrell of obstructing the committeeâ€™s work and â€œdancing on the head of a pin.â€Â
Baillie pressed the SNP chief on his assertion that he had no knowledge of additional text messages concerning the complaints against Salmond.Â
Last year, Murrell acknowledged that he had sent a message to party colleagues suggesting â€œpressureâ€ should be put on the police to pursue the former first minister. He said simply that he was seeking to ensure alleged harassment victims received help from law enforcement.
Salmond had been set to testify himself this week, but after the committee refused to publish submissions made to a separate investigation in which he accused Sturgeon of misleading parliament, the 66-year-old pulled out.
The inquiry is investigating whether the Scottish government mishandled harassment allegations against the former leader â€” claims that led to his prosecution and eventual acquittal of all charges.
Speaking during his trial in March, Salmond described the claims as â€œdeliberate fabrications for a political purposeâ€ and alluded to an attempted character assassination. He successfully pursued a judicial review of the government probe, with taxpayers footing the Â£500,000 bill.Â