Scotland politics

Alex Salmond defends not telling police about Observer hacking claim

Alex Salmond
Image caption Alex Salmond made his claim when he appeared before the Leveson inquiry

First Minister Alex Salmond has defended his decision not to contact police over claims his bank account was hacked by the Observer.

Mr Salmond told the Leveson Inquiry he believed his details were accessed in 1999, a claim the Sunday broadsheet described as unsubstantiated.

A spokesman for the first minister said his view was that it was up to the newspaper to investigate the issue.

No story was published by the Observer relating to the hacking claim.

Mr Salmond's spokesman also questioned whether there was a connection between the allegation and an unpublished and "baseless" story that the first minister, a horse racing fan, had gambling debts.

On Wednesday, Mr Salmond told the inquiry into press standards that he was informed by a former Observer journalist that the newspaper gained access to his bank account in 1999, when the SNP leader was an MP seeking to win a seat at Holyrood in the first Scottish Parliament election.

An Observer spokesman previously said it had been "unable to find any evidence to substantiate the allegation".

When asked why Mr Salmond had not contacted the police over the matter, a spokesman for the first minister said: "His current view is that it's the responsibility of the newspaper to properly investigate this and to accept that they were engaged in such activities."

The spokesman later added: "The first minister's not ruling out any option for the future".

And when asked what evidence there was that the hacking took place, the spokesman responded: "That's what he was told by the former Observer journalist."

The spokesman also made reference to Operation Motorman, a 2003 investigation by the UK Information Commissioner into alleged breaches of data protection law.

'Total fiction'

It found the Observer had used the services of an investigation agency on 103 occasions.

The spokesman also said a decision by Mr Salmond to report the matter to police may result in the disclosure of his source.

When asked if that source was former Observer columnist Alex Bell, now a Scottish government special adviser, the spokesman said: "I have nothing to add to the remarks that the first minister made yesterday, which is that the information was provided to him by a former Observer journalist, and he will respect the confidentiality of that source."

The spokesman also recalled getting calls from journalists in the run-up to the 1999 election, "about a story that was going round that the first minister had gambling debts, which may very well be connected to this particular issue that the first minister talked about yesterday, which was always a total and utter fiction".

"Many Scottish journalists were seeking to write a story about something that was simply untrue, totally baseless," said the spokesman.

Mr Salmond, the spokesman added, was told of the hacking incident in the "early part of the new decade".

A spokesman for Guardian News & Media, which runs the Observer newspaper, said Mr Salmond first raised the matter with the editor of the Sunday broadsheet last year.

A Labour spokesman said: "If the first minister has evidence that his bank account details were illegally hacked into, we believe it is incumbent upon him to report the matter to the police.

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