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Statement on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints

Below is a statement from the women whose personal and private messages were requested by the Scottish Parliament’s “Salmond Committee” and were handed to the Committee by the Crown Office as part of a Section 23 Order for messages belonging to Sue Ruddick.

In light of the decision taken by the Committee not to publish the messages received from the Crown Office under the Section 23 Order, we feel it is important that our voices are heard, where so far they have been secondary to the Committee’s inquiry.

We are deeply disappointed that the Committee saw fit to request messages between people identified by the Police and the Crown as victims of sexual harassment, some of whose identities are protected by a court order. We have no doubt that members of the Committee knew that vulnerable witnesses were involved when they made the request.

We are also deeply disturbed that the Crown has felt it appropriate to break the trust we placed in it. Having been let down by the Crown Office, we feel this unnecessary act will have done serious damage to progress made over the last few years in sexual assault cases. We urge the Crown to consider the grave consequences of their actions, and are actively considering further options.

Not a single one of these messages relates to the remit of the Committee or the Committee’s published approach to the inquiry. In short, what the Crown provided are personal communications between friends who supported each other during a traumatic time. Comments made by members of the committee, passing judgement on the motivations of women, describing women’s communications as “fair game” and raising questions as to the genuine nature of the complaints made, have caused considerable distress since the Order was placed and do a disservice to all women who have made complaints of this nature.

Each individual in the messages requested by the Committee experienced behaviour from Alex Salmond that was unacceptable and which either Police Scotland or the Crown Office considered potentially criminal.

A group chat, about which there has been much speculation, was simply a support group for women who had already shared their experiences with the Police. The selective quoting of messages by people with whom they should not have been shared has led to increasing pressure on the women involved.

These messages, had they been published, would show clearly that there was no conspiracy between women, but bonds of friendship and support.

There is no manual as to what happens to you when you speak to the Police and they inform you that the actions you describe could be criminal. There’s no handbook that sets out whether or how you’ll be protected, what your rights are and what happens to your identity. There’s no immediate offer of support from a third party, someone who can help guide you through the process. That simply isn’t there. So you turn to your friends and colleagues for support.

And when the person you have been asked by Police Scotland to give evidence about is someone who was and is a hugely powerful figure, there is comfort in knowing that you are not the only one going through that experience, you find support in solidarity.

It is impossible to counter claims of conspiracy by those who selectively choose messages, without any context. These are private and personal communications which should not need to be in the public domain to prove a theory false or for complainers to be believed.

That we work in politics should not prevent us from speaking honestly and truthfully to the Police or to each other, in fact it should compel us to do so, to live up to the values we believe in.

We firmly believe that the Committee’s determination to gain sight of and publish these personal messages is yet another example of the behaviour that led Rape Crisis Scotland to write on behalf of the two complainers in the government investigation into Mr Salmond that;

“They are deeply disappointed that the Committee continues to be insensitive to the fact that they are real people on the other side of this, and they are distressed that their painful personal experiences are being exploited for political purposes through the Committee’s inquiry."

Publication and discussion of private messages is a complete invasion of privacy and has already led to further distress, not only to us, but also to the other women involved in complaints against Mr Salmond, and those we turned to for support.

The bullying and intimidation of complainers through use of their private and personal communications must end now.

Sandy Brindley, Chief Executive of Rape Crisis Scotland said:

"In amongst the noise and politics of this committee inquiry the experiences of the women who reported their experiences has been side-lined, manipulated and exploited by some for political and personal gain. This is completely unacceptable.

Survivors often tell us that they fear disclosing their experiences because people may not believe them, that there will be repercussions from the person responsible or others, and if they report they fear their lives will be scrutinised and torn apart. It’s difficult to see this entire situation as anything other than a manifestation of many survivors’ worst fears on a magnified, national scale.

The remit of this inquiry is clear and both the request for these private messages and the decision of the Crown to provide them is unjust and irrelevant to the work of the committee. Survivors are entitled to privacy and we are deeply concerned about the precedent this sets going forward, and the impact that this public conversation is having right now on anyone who has experienced any form of sexual harassment, abuse or assault.

The focus of this inquiry should be on organisational accountability and capturing any possible learning for improved responses going forward. Far greater care needs to be taken to avoid worsening the intimidation and harassment of the women involved in this case."

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