January 2021 High Court Edinburgh
Craig Murray, faced a contempt of court hearing after posting information on his blog in advance of Mr Salmond’s trial. The contempt proceedings at the High Court, Edinburgh, before Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, heard Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown argue that information Craig posted on his blog in January 2020 could lead to jigsaw identification of the women involved, breaching a contempt of court order, creating a substantial risk of prejudicing the trial.
John Scott QC, defending, argued that at the date of the publication there was no court order in place and Craig had gone to great lengths to keep the complainants identities hidden. He added that the Crown had contacted Craig over the article prior to the start of Alex Salmond’s trial, but did not demand he take it down. Craig viewed the contact as “inappropriate censorship, as opposed to welcome advice”.
Lady Dorrian questioned why the case against Craig had been brought after Mr Salmond’s trial. She said: “Both articles being addressed were published in advance of the trial. If the Crown was of the view these articles created a substantial risk, it seems strange the Crown did not take action at that time.”
Alex Prentice QC, said:
“I accept that that is factually correct and a matter that the court can take into account while assessing the allegation. However I still believe there was a risk of identification. In my submission, the respondent argued that the publication was limited to those who followed his blog on social media and not the wider public, but one must consider it could be potentially much more distressing for someone in a working environment to work out the identity of a person in circumstances such as those that occurred in this case. In any situation, there will be some people who know the complainers – members of immediate family, work colleagues. In any case, there will be members of the community who have some pieces of the jigsaw. If it’s people who have particular knowledge, perhaps knowledge imparted by the complainers themselves, there may be a category of people who have bits of the jigsaw and finding out – for example – that an allegation came from a particular place… that will then narrow the field. It requires greater care for anyone seeking to report responsibly but it is not by any means straightforward. It might be possible for good faith errors to be made there. Jigsaws come with varying complexities. A 500-piece puzzle is a very different proposition to a 12-piece puzzle of Peppa Pig. While some information in the public domain may be pieced together by those determined to do so, the risk may be relatively remote. There is no agreed path for the court to find there was a risk of jigsaw identification. There is no safe path through it. What is not accepted is that it is extensive information here. And what is accepted and agreed is there was not enough to safely do that and to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that this was contempt.”
John Scott QC, replied that the interpretation the content of the article by Mr Prentice QC, was all encompassing and unreasonable, saying: “If the Crown argument is correct, one wonders how anything would be reported at all. Nothing at all could really be published.
If the Crown had been truly concerned that the information published by Craig before the trial carried a real risk of jigsaw identification of the complainants, breaching a contempt of court order and creating a substantial risk of prejudicing the trial, it had every right to defer the start of the trial until such time as the contempt of court allegation against Craig had been heard and resolved. That it did not do so suggested the pursuit of Craig was driven by factors other than stated. Maybe because the Crown lost the case?? Additionally in his rambling statement Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown alluded to the fact that there were many members of the wider community who were aware of the names of the complainants, either through personal contact with family members, friends, work colleagues, the press and bloggers on social media.
A written judgement issued at a much delayed date decided Craig was guilty.
There is an answer but I am not sure just what it is. In my view the Crown erred by permitting the trial to start when, by it’s own admission it had concerns that Craig had facilitated a jigsaw identification spread with articles he posted many months before the trial start date. It is also noteworthy that the contempt of court charge should not have been levied against Craig using the January 2020 blogs since Lady Dorrian had not yet pronounced on the matter of jigsaw naming. She alluded to this with her questioning of the Crown’s motives.