Former Scotland leader cleared over sexual assaults

Alex Salmond was acquitted of sexual offences against nine women

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MARCH 23: Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond departs Edinburgh High Court on March 23, 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Alex Salmond has been cleared of sexual assaulting nine women while he was Scotland's first minister. The jury found the former SNP leader not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges facing him, while another was found not proven, a further charge of sexually assaulting a 10th woman had previously been dropped by prosecutors. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond has been acquitted of attempted rape and sexual assaults against nine women.

Mr Salmond, 65, who led the Scottish National Party's losing campaign for independence in 2014, was cleared on Monday of all 13 charges against him after an 11-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

One of Britain's most recognisable politicians, he has since stepped down to work as a chat show host on Russia Today.

Mr Salmond showed little emotion as the verdicts were returned.

Outside court, he promised evidence that could not be put before the court would eventually come out, but as the country was facing the coronavirus outbreak, it would be done later.

“Whatever nightmare I've been in over the last two years is as of nothing compared to the nightmare every single one of us are living through,” he said.

The nine women worked for the Scottish government or the Scottish National Party.

The allegations spanned a period between June 2008 and November 2014 at various locations in Scotland.

The most serious allegation of attempted rape is said to have happened in June 2014 at the first minister's official Bute House residence in Edinburgh.

The jury returned not guilty verdicts on 12 of the charges, including the alleged attempted rape, and not proven on one charge of assault with intent to rape.

Under Scottish law, not proven has the same legal status as an acquittal.

A woman who claimed he tried to rape her said she was motivated to go to police after revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement.

But Mr Salmond, said to be a "tactile" person who would regularly kiss and hug people, told his lawyer Gordon Jackson that he and the woman had a "consensual sexual liaison".

He denied trying to rape her but said he wished he had been "more careful with people's personal space".

Mr Salmond led the pro-independence Scottish National Party for 20 years and Scotland's semi-autonomous government as its first minister from 2007 to 2014.

A major figure on the political stage for decades, he took Scotland to the verge of independence from the UK in the 2014 referendum.

He stepped down as leader after the “remain” side won the vote with 55 per cent.

In 2018, Mr Salmond took legal action against the Scottish devolved government, now led by his successor Nicola Sturgeon, over how it handled the complaints process against him in a sexual harassment case.

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.