Scottish prosecutors have indicated they could investigate how David Davis obtained leaked messages which he said pointed towards a criminal plot against Alex Salmond.
The Crown Office declared on Thursday that it was “considering if any further investigation is required” after the senior Tory used parliamentary privilege to read out texts between senior SNP figures including Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, which were disclosed to Mr Salmond ahead of his criminal trial.
The former Brexit Secretary swiftly took exception to the announcement, as he told officials to “go back and read their law books”.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon attacked Mr Davis and Mr Salmond as “the very epitome of the old boys’ club” and demanded an apology from the former Brexit Secretary, who she described as her predecessor’s “old pal”.
Under Scots law, information provided to a defendant ahead of a criminal trial cannot be used for any other purpose than in legal proceedings.
Mr Salmond had been threatened with prosecution if he publicly spoke about the contents of the messages, but has claimed they point to “pressuring witnesses” and “construction of evidence”.
Mr Davis read out some of the messages on Tuesday, claiming they had been passed to him by a “whisleblower” who believed they “point to collusion, perjury, up to criminal conspiracy.”
While under parliamentary privilege Mr Davis can face no legal action for reading the messages out, the Crown Office said it was considering investigating how he obtained them.
“It’s none of their business,” Mr Davis told The Daily Telegraph. “It’s parliamentary privileged information, I recommend they go back to study their law books.”
Meanwhile, the Crown confirmed it did not intend to investigate the claims of a conspiracy involving senior SNP figures, saying there was “no evidential basis” in the messages to support a probe.
Last night the First Minister said the Scottish Government ‘absolutely refutes the allegation that civil servants sought to obstruct or show contempt for the court process.’
— David Davis (@DavidDavisMP) March 18, 2021
It also emerged that the Crown Office had issued threats to journalists after they published Mr Salmond’s written evidence into whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.
Both The Spectator magazine and the Guido Fawkes blog confirmed they had received letters demanding that sections of Mr Salmond’s evidence were deleted from their websites, over fears they breach a court order giving complainers anonymity.
In an editorial, The Spectator claimed it had been advised it could face an unlimited fine and huge legal costs if it failed to comply, and accused the Crown Office of a “jackboot approach to a free press, in pursuit of an agenda which suits its political masters.”
At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon called on Mr Davis to apologise after a woman involved in the process described his claims about Liz Lloyd, her chief of staff, as “fundamentally untrue” .
Mr Davis read out a note between civil servants that he said showed Ms Lloyd had meddled in an investigation into Mr Salmond two months before the First Minister claims she was aware of it.
Other messages read out by Mr Davis showed “a concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints”, he claimed.
These included one between senior SNP officials stating one complainer was now “up for the fight” and “keen to see him [Mr Salmond] go to jail”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Having David Davis, a Tory MP, reading out in the House of Commons, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, his old pal Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theories about the sexual harassment allegations against him must be the very epitome of the old boys club.”
She also said Mr Davis’s claims that there was an attempt from within the Scottish Government to deliberately withhold a document from the courts when Mr Salmond was challenging the civil service probe in a judicial review was untrue. Mr Salmond’s camp is understood to strongly dispute this.
A Crown Office spokesman said it had acted impartially and independently in its investigation and prosecution of Mr Salmond. He was cleared of 13 sexual assault charges last year.
The spokesman added: “We are aware of the statement made in the House of Commons and are considering if any further investigation is required.”