Former British High Commissioner to Ghana sentenced to 8 months in jail
A former UK High Commissioner to Ghana, Craig Murray has been
jailed for contempt in the United Kingdom.
The 62-year-old was sentenced to eight months in jail for breaching
strict rules around identifying witnesses in the Alex Salmond trial.
The former Dundee University rector breached a strict court order
passed to protect women who gave evidence at the former
first minister’s high court trial last year.
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He had watched two days of Mr Salmond’s trial in March 2020 from
the public gallery of Edinburgh’s High Court and wrote about it on his website.
At a hearing held earlier this year, the judges found Murray had broken
the law by publishing information which breached the order,
relating to material capable of identifying four complainers.
The former diplomat also breached a long-standing practice that the
media follow in not publishing information which could allow readers
to realize the identities of sexual assault complainers.
The former Ambassador to Uzbekistan now publishes a blog about
political matters and often criticizes the media and established politicians.
Murray, who was the university’s rector from 2007 to 2010,
had been due to standas a candidate for Alex Salmond’s Alba party
in the recent Scottish parliamentary elections.
‘Relished’ disclosure of identities
Sentencing, Lady Dorrian said Murray knew there were court orders
giving the women anonymity and he was “relishing”
the potential disclosure of their identities.
At the virtual sentencing, Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian explained
Murray deliberately risked jigsaw identification and that revealing
complainers’ identities was “abhorrent”.
She said it was “particularly so, given the enormous publicity which
the case in question attracted and continues to attract”.
Murray’s offending blog posts and tweets were written over a
period of a month and remained live, unredacted, despite the
blogger being told they could potentially lead to the identification
of women who had made complaints about Mr Salmond,
who was eventually acquitted of all 13 charges.
His previous lawyer John Scott QC told the judges earlier this year
Murray saw the Alex Salmond trial as part of “a bigger picture”.
Lady Dorrian said: “It appears from the posts and articles that
he was in fact relishing the task he set himself, which was
essentially to allow the identities of complainers to be discerned
which he thought was in the public interest
in a way which did not attract sanction.”
She added: “These actions create a real risk that complainers may
be reluctant to come forward in future cases, particularly where
the case may be high profile or likely to attract significant publicity.
“The actions strike at the heart of the fair administration of justice.
“Notwithstanding the previous character of the respondent and
his health issues, we do not think we can dispose of this case other
than by way of a sentence of imprisonment.”
Murray was initially given 48 hours to hand himself in to a police station,
but after a challenge by his lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC, this was
extended to three weeks so Murray can appeal the sentence,
although he has to surrender his passport.
In his previous mitigation submission, Mr Dunlop said Murray was a
man of “impeccable character” and previously “untarnished reputation”.
Mr Dunlop said sending Murray to prison would be “harsh to
the point of being disproportionate”.
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He said: “Allowing that the finding of contempt has been ruled by
this court to be justified, the question is whether, given all the
circumstances, that justification extends yet further to countenancing
imprisonment, to taking a retired diplomat with an exemplary
background away from his wife, his 11-year-old son, and his baby.”