Not going away
Serious questions about Bill Walker remain unanswered, writes IAN SMART. For everyone’s sake – including the SNP’s – we need answers
Graeme Pearson and I come from different ends of the criminal justice system. Before becoming an MSP he had spent all of his life as a policeman, latterly a very senior policeman, catching the bad guys and seeing them prosecuted. I, on the other hand, have never prosecuted anyone in my life, my own career being devoted to defending the innocent and sometimes the not so innocent.
But Graeme and I have one skill in common, spotting when somebody’s story doesn’t ring true. And when Graeme says in a press release today that Nicola Sturgeon’s “alibi” over Bill Walker simply does not add up, he has my unconditional endorsement.
I blogged about this on the day Walker was convicted since when various other pieces of the jigsaw have come to light.
Firstly, it appears I was too readily prepared to accept the version of the SNP about the meeting Rob Armstrong, Walker’s former brother in law had with Nicola Sturgeon’s office in 2008. The SNP claimed that it was primarily about a child access dispute and indeed in my previous blog I was crtical about their breach of confidentiality in that regard but here we have Mr Armstrong’s version of events.
“[that] is a totally inaccurate assessment of that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was purely about Bill Walker.”
Now, Mr Armstrong subsequently gave an interview to Raymond Buchanan on Newsnight Scotland, unfortunately no longer available online, but anyone who saw that will have formed the impression of a man measured in his remarks who was at pains to say that he had no wider animus against the SNP and indeed was positively complimentary about the First Minister who he clearly did not think had any personal knowledge of these matters. Yet, it would appear that, this notwithstanding, the SNP are accusing Mr Armstrong of lying.
Then we have this this carefully worded statement from the SNP after Walker’s conviction.
“The matter was considered by a member of staff at SNP headquarters and reasonable enquiries made, but there was no evidence of any complaint in law or legal proceedings into Mr Walker’s conduct, and the inquiry was closed.”
Now that is true but exceptionally economical with that truth.
For we now have much more detail about what the SNP did know about Walker in 2008.It is here.
I draw your attention particularly to this section
[Mr Armstrong] said he recalled showing Sturgeon’s aide at least three documents: a hand-written affidavit by Walker about a child access case; an old newspaper cutting about his past; and a damning court judgment.
In the 1987 affidavit, Walker wrote about an incident in which he hit his former step-daughter Louise with a saucepan.
Walker also responded to Louise’s claim that he smacked her on the bare bottom until the age of 15.
He wrote: “After no more than [waiting] 15 minutes she did receive her ‘punishment’, one smack on each buttock with a slipper, with her navy blue knickers on.”
Now, that may not be “any complaint in law or legal proceedings into (The SNP’s word) Mr Walker’s conduct but it is certainly evidence of legal proceedings about his conduct. And the affidavit, for the avoidance of doubt was not from a third party who might have had an axe to grind. It was from Walker himself.
How, faced with that evidence, the admission by a middle aged man that he regarded it as appropriate behaviour to strike his teenage stepdaughter on the buttocks, was it decided that it was appropriate to “close the (sic) inquiry”? That is surely something that can’t be shrugged off as a regrettable oversight? While readers can form their own view, it certainly looks to me like a wilful decision to overlook child abuse to prevent political embarrassment.
And then we have Nicola’s own (very) carefully worded statement:
“It is, of course, the case that knowing what is now known about Bill Walker, we all wish that he had been prevented from becoming an SNP candidate.”
I don’t doubt that for a moment! That however is some considerable way from the much simpler statement that it is regrettable that the SNP did not act on the information they possessed in 2008.
And it remains unclear why that is not the clear and public position of the Deputy First Minister. In light of the information about the affidavit signed by Walker himself it is clear that the earlier suggestion by the SNP that they had no way of verifying the “allegations” is simply unsustainable. They may not have had the means to get to all the detail ultimately exposed by the prosecuting authorities but they had the man’s own admission of the smacking incident and the assault with the saucepan, albeit in respect of the latter presumably subject to the same plea of “self defence” that Walker unsuccessfully advanced at his trial. They also had the newspaper reports which, if untrue, would surely have been defamatory to a degree that Walker might at least have been asked why he had not sued.
But, then again, it appears Walker was never asked anything about the information provided by Mr Armstrong, either at the time or when he was later adopted as a Parliamentary candidate.
I do not know the identity of the SNP official who decided to “close the inquiry” but I agree with Mr Armstrong in the opening paragraph the last article quoted that whoever it was ought to be considering their position. As should anybody else who knew of that decision and approved it.
And I also know this. If the SNP decide to continue to bury their heads in the sand over this matter it will most certainly not go away. And people more widely will start to ask if this is an attractive advertisement for the would be government of an independent country.
They need, as Kate Higgins suggests today, to set up an independent inquiry into what happened. Might I suggest Mungo Bovey, the leading Nationalist QC and a person of unimpeachable integrity, as a suitable candidate for its chair. And they then need to act on the result of that inquiry. No matter who it implicates.
And, before I’m asked, that would certainly be my position had Walker been elected as a Labour MSP. I’m not suggesting wrong calls on such matters are the exclusive preserve of the SNP. But I am suggesting that all the evidence points to a wrong call having been made. Zero tolerance has to mean just that.
Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart. This post was originally published on Ian’s blog.