Salmond alleges 'Observer' illegally secured bank details

Thu, Jun 14, 2012, 01:00

SCOTTISH FIRST minister Alex Salmond yesterday charged that the Observer newspaper – sister-paper of the Guardian, which unearthed the scale of the phone-hacking at the News of the World – illegally secured information about his bank account.

The Sunday title had believed for a time that a reference in one transaction to “Fun Games” meant that he had used the services of prostitutes, until they discovered that it referred to a toyshop where Mr Salmond had bought presents for his nieces.

“The person who informed me told me that this caused great anticipation and hope in the Observer investigation unit because they believed that perhaps ‘Fun Games’ was more than a conventional toyshop,” he told the Leveson inquiry.

“And enormous disappointment when it turned out to be just a toy shop,” he said, adding that the detail about his transactions “could only have been known by somebody who had full access to my bank account at that stage”.

The allegation was first made to the paper last year, but Mr Salmond was not asked to explain why it took over a decade to raise it. Last night the Observer said it had been unable “to find any evidence to substantiate his allegation”.

“As our response to him at the time made clear, we take this allegation very seriously and if he is able to provide us with any more information we will investigate further,” the newspaper said.

Mr Salmond said he did not believe his mobile phone had been hacked, but he expressed fury that the Metropolitan Police had not told the Scottish authorities for years of Scottish-based hacking victims of the News of the World.

The Scottish first minister rejected charges he had developed a “cosy” relationship with News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch, promising to back News Corp’s bid to buy all of BSkyB in return for support from his Scottish titles.

The Murdoch-owned titles in Scotland took varying positions. He accepted that the Scottish Sun had shifted away from its traditional support of Labour to back his Scottish National Party in last year’s election.

However, he insisted that the change had happened because a new editor “had wanted to make his own mark”, which left Mr Salmond hoping that the editor would not be blocked by London-based executives, which had happened in the past.

He said he had been prepared to support News Corp’s bid for all of BSkyB, believing that it would be good for BSkyB’s operations in Scotland, where, he said, it had “a huge economic footprint”, employing 6,000 people.

He rejected an assertion from Leveson barrister Robert Jay that it would not have been proper to contact the British secretary of state for business, Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, because he was in a quasi-judicial role.

“He had to make a decision insulated from the sort of considerations that you might have made,” said Mr Jay, leading Mr Salmond to respond sharply: “He was, I wasn’t.” The Scottish government had looked for submissions in the al-Megrahi case in 2009, he said.

Mr Salmond accepted that his relationship with Mr Murdoch – “five meetings in five years” – was warm, partly because Mr Murdoch – the grandson of a Scottish emigrant – was interested in the Scottish independence debate.

“He had a lively interest in the subject. He was sceptical, but not unfriendly [towards it]. Conversations were friendly,” said Mr Salmond, adding: “If I was canvassing he would still be in the ‘don’t know’ category.”