Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

New Pyjamas trial: Lord McConnell 'did not dine with Elaine McGonigle'

Former First Minister Jack McConnell has told a court he never met with charity fundraiser, Elaine McGonigle, on a Saturday night in April 2009.

Lord McConnell, 53, was giving evidence at the trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court of Ms McGonigle, 50, from Perthshire.

She has denied 13 charges of making false claims for expenses while the director of the New Pyjamas Campaign.

The charity was set up to raise £15m to build a new Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

The claims for meetings, food and travel, were said to have been made between 22 September 2008, and 5 March 2010. The alleged frauds are said to have totalled £1,855.

The court heard Mrs McGonigle had claimed £70.40 for a meeting with Lord McConnell and Jim McCall on 4 April 2009.

Media publicity

Lord McConnell told Sheriff Douglas Allan that he had been contacted in 2009 by email or telephone about the New Pyjamas Campaign.

It might have been Mrs McGonigle, he said, because he knew her husband from university days.

He said she wanted him to act in "an ambassadorial role" to assist in fundraising through his contacts with individuals and helping with media publicity.

He added: "I had very little reservation about giving help."

The former first minister explained that in 2003 a nephew of his had been seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident and had been treated at the Sick Kids hospital.

Since then he had connections with Sick Kids Friends Foundation, who ran the campaign.

"I felt very, very grateful for the treatment to my nephew and I saw this as an opportunity to give something back to the hospital," he added.

He organised the launch of the campaign in the Scottish Parliament, when he and Mrs McGonigle dressed in pyjamas and attracted media publicity.

It was not impossible that after that there had been some "follow-up conversations" about the Pyjamas Campaign, he said, but it was more likely that had been between their two offices.

On August 27, 2010, Lord McConnell was contacted at the Scottish Parliament by a police officer and asked about a claim by Mrs McGonigle that she had had a meeting with him on Saturday, 4 April 2009.

"I checked my diary and my staff and the date that was put to me by the police was definitely not in my diary, not remembered by me and not remembered by my staff."

Asked if the statement he made to the police and produced in court was correct. He replied: "There is no doubt in my mind that statement would be accurate".

In the statement, Lord McConnell said: "From memory I have no recollection of having dinner with Elaine McGonigle."

A check of his diary, he said, showed he had no appointments that Saturday and he was "pretty certain I was with my family that day". He added he had travelled to Edinburgh on the Sunday and flew to New York on the 09:30 flight.

The trial continues.

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