Leveson Inquiry: Alex Salmond says Observer accessed bank account

Mr Salmond made his claim about the Observer during his three hours of evidence

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that his bank account was accessed by the Observer newspaper.

The SNP leader made the claim before Lord Justice Leveson, sitting at London's Royal Courts of Justice.

Responding to Mr Salmond's claim, a spokesman for the Observer said "we have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate the allegation".

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg gave evidence ahead of Mr Salmond.

The subject of Mr Salmond's bank account came up when inquiry QC Robert Jay asked the politician if his phone had ever been hacked.

The first minister said he had not been contacted by Strathclyde Police, who were investigating phone hacking in Scotland, to say he had been a victim.

However, he added: "What I can say is that I believe that my bank account was accessed by the Observer newspaper in 1999.

"My reason for believing that is I was informed by a former Observer journalist who gave me a fairly exact account of what was in my bank account that could only have been known to somebody who had seen it."

Start Quote

So, Mr Jay inquired, did you contact James Murdoch in order to seek support for the SNP? No, said the First Minister.....”

End Quote

Mr Salmond, who was party leader and an MP at Westminster in 1999, explained further: "For example I bought some toys for my then young nieces in a toy shop in Linlithgow High Street which was called 'Fun and Games'.

"The person who informed me told me this caused great anticipation and hope in the Observer investigation unit because they believed that perhaps 'Fun and Games' was more than a conventional toy shop."

A spokesman for Guardian News & Media, which runs the Observer newspaper, said that Mr Salmond first raised the matter of an alleged unauthorised access of his bank account with the editor of the Sunday broadsheet last year.

He added: "As we explained to him [Mr Salmond] last year, on the basis of the information he had given us, we have 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."

From Twitter

Look back at what our correspondents said in tweeted evidence from the Leveson Inquiry.

  • @TimReidBBC tweets - Salmond says his special adviser Geoff Aberdein has been "exonerated" over his contacts with Fred Michel of News corp.
  • @TimReidBBC tweets - Salmond denies that support for BskyB bid given to James Murdoch made it easier to persuade ed of Scottish Sun to support SNP
  • @BBCJamesCook tweets - Salmond: I opened News International's Eurocentral plant in Oct 07 at a time when The Sun was supporting Labour
  • @BBCBreaking tweets - FM Alex Salmond says he never explicitly asked the Murdochs for support from their newspapers
  • @TimReidBBC tweets - Salmond says Brooks asked him who would be a good person to "pursue the case against independence

Throughout this week the inquiry has been hearing from politicians who are explaining what relationship they have with the press.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown and current Chancellor George Osborne appeared on Monday. Prime Minister David Cameron is due to give evidence on Thursday.

During the evidence session on Wednesday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg told Lord Justice Leveson that he met Rupert Murdoch twice ahead of the 2010 General Election, but exchanged only a few sentences with the News Corp boss.

He explained that at a 2009 dinner with Mr Murdoch, he sat at the end of the table "where the children sit" and was "an observer" and in March 2010, the pair exchanged "amicable greetings" in a corridor.

He added that he had known News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel, socially and professionally, for more than a decade.

Clegg evidence

But Mr Clegg said he had not discussed the company's bid to take over broadcaster BSkyB and had not spoken to Mr Michel since a dinner at the house of a mutual acquaintance in September 2010.

During nearly three hours of evidence giving at the inquiry, Mr Salmond was questioned about his relationship with media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The businessman's News International organisation is at the heart of the inquiry which is looking in part at the extent of unlawful or improper conduct of media companies.

Mr Murdoch closed his popular Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, in July last year following allegations the paper hacked the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.

Alex Salmond's statement about the Observer caused a flurry in the courtroom.

Any suggestion that papers beyond the Murdoch group have been involved in wrongdoing has implications for the press as a whole. When it's a "quality" paper rather than a tabloid - and the sister paper of the Guardian, which exposed the phonehacking scandal - the concerns go wider.

We already knew, from a 2006 report by the Information Commissioner, that more than 30 national papers - including the Observer - had paid private investigators to gather information - but often they claimed a "public interest" defence.

Mr Salmond said he believed his bank account had been accessed in 1999 because a former Observer journalist had given him details that could only have been known to someone who had seen it.

The newspaper's publishers say he first raised the matter with them last year and they had been unable to find any evidence to substantiate the allegation. But they took it very seriously and would investigate further if he could provide more information.

Mr Salmond said he had met Mr Murdoch senior "five times in five years" which he believed was "pretty reasonable" and "isn't in the same league as Mr Blair, Mr Brown or Mr Cameron".

He told the inquiry: "I saw Mr Murdoch's evidence. He said he didn't know me well, that is fair. At the same time he said the conversations we had were friendly in tone - that is correct as well."

Mr Salmond's name had already been raised during the UK government commissioned inquiry.

When Mr Murdoch's son, James Murdoch, came before Leveson on 24 April, he was asked about emails in which it was revealed that Mr Salmond's adviser - named as Geoff Aberdein - had agreed that the first minister would call Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt "whenever we need him to".

Tory MP Mr Hunt had been given the quasi-legal job of deciding the fate of satellite broadcaster BSkyB - which News Corp wanted to take full control of.

The day after Mr Murdoch junior's appearance, Mr Murdoch senior was in the Leveson hot seat when the issue of his relationship with the SNP and its leader was raised.

The 81-year-old was asked by inquiry lawyer Mr Jay why the Scottish Sun newspaper was anti-SNP at the 2007 Holyrood election but by 2010 had swung behind Mr Salmond and his party.

Mr Murdoch said his organisation had not done any deal with Mr Salmond.

The first minister backed up Mr Murdoch's evidence, saying there was no "quid pro quo" over supporting News Corp's BSkyB bid in return for editorial support of the Murdoch press.

'Implied deal?'

Asked whether he was in favour of News Corporation's bid to fully own BSkyB, Mr Salmond told the inquiry he supported "what benefited the Scottish economy".

He added that it was "perfectly legitimate" to pledge to speak to Mr Hunt, however, no discussion ever took place.

Mr Jay asked Mr Salmond: "I know you don't accept that there was any implied deal but do you accept that looking at the emails, at the very least, there was a perception of cosiness?"

Email to Leveson Inquiry Emails, including this one, were submitted to the Leveson Inquiry from James Murdoch

The politician replied: "I don't just not accept that there wasn't an implied deal - there wasn't a deal here. I hope and believe that the emails suggest that I can deal with people in a proper and business like and cordial manner and that is what we seek to do."

On the issue of future regulation of the media, Mr Salmond said Lord Justice Leveson should look at the Republic of Ireland's ombudsman approach.

The Leveson Inquiry made public documents relating to Mr Salmond's evidence session on Wednesday afternoon.

Following Rupert Murdoch's appearance at the inquiry, News Corporation provided material detailing meetings and phone calls between the media mogul and Mr Salmond which have been published on the inquiry website.

However, Mr Salmond disputed some of the entries during his evidence, including a lunch and a phone call which he said did not take place. (Details below)

Rupert Murdoch's contact with Alex Salmond (Source: Leveson Inquiry)

Date Event Who initiated it? What was discussed?

1. The Scottish government says the telephone call was a meeting which took place at the News International offices in New York.

2. The Scottish government says this meeting did not take place. It added that Mr Salmond was travelling back from an overseas trip to China on this date.

3. The Scottish government says that this lunch did not take place.

17/11/2000

Telephone call (possibly)

-

-

12/10/2007

Telephone call (possibly) (1)

-

-

30/10/2007

Opening of new printing plant in Scotland

-

-

4/04/2008

Breakfast meeting

-

Discussions about Rupert Murdoch's Scottish roots

25/09/2008

Telephone call

Alex Salmond

-

19/02/2009

Telephone call

Alex Salmond

-

17/03/2011

Telephone call

-

-

20/06/2011

Meeting

-

Discussions involved Alex Salmond's interest in Scottish independence

11/12/2011

Meeting (2)

-

Discussions about News Corporation's investments in Scotland

Undated in 2012

Lunch (3)

-

Discussions involved Alex Salmond's interest in Scottish independence

21/02/2012

Telephone call

-

-

29/02/2012

Lunch (with others, including Frederic Michael and Geoff Aberdein)

-

Discussions about News Corporation's investments in Scotland

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