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I cannot recall seeing Salmond accuser at dinner, defence witness tells court

The former first minister of Scotland has been accused of 13 alleged sexual offences, including one of attempted rape.

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Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh for the eighth day of his trial (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh for the eighth day of his trial (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh for the eighth day of his trial (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A businesswoman has told jurors she does not recall seeing a complainer, who has accused Alex Salmond of trying to rape her, “at any point” on the evening the alleged assault is said to have taken place.

The former Scottish Government official, known as Woman H, told the High Court in Edinburgh the incident took place at Bute House in Edinburgh following a dinner in June 2014.

Salmond denies the alleged incident at the first minister’s official residence happened, saying the woman was not there on the night in question.

He has said he had a “consensual sexual liaison” with Woman H the previous year.

Salmond trial
Woman H says Salmond tried to rape her at Bute House (Jane Barlow/PA)

The former first minister of Scotland, 65, is accused of a total of 13 alleged sexual offences against nine women, all of which he denies.

The defence witness, a company director who was speaking at the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday, said she was at the dinner with Salmond and another guest.

When Alex Prentice QC, prosecution lawyer, suggested the complainer had been at the dinner, the witness replied: “I understand the police put that to me and I absolutely have no recollection of seeing (her) on that night.”

The court was told she had sought advice before giving a statement to police when they contacted her last month about allegations against Salmond.

It was also heard the complainer said it “would be great” to work with Salmond again – a year after she alleges he attempted to rape her.

Jurors were shown a text message exchange between Woman H and former SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

Part of one message sent by the complainer in June 2015 – a year after the alleged attempted rape – read: “Would be great to be working with him again.”

The court also heard from Salmond’s former principal private secretary, who described working with him as a “privilege and a penance”.

Karen Watt, who held the post between 2009 and 2012, said he had been a politician “at the top of his game”.

“I have described my time working with him as a privilege and a penance,” she said.

“It was very exacting, very fast-paced, also very tough, you needed to be quite resilient.”

High Court in Edinburgh
The trial is taking place at the High Court in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

She added: “He could be very demanding, he would expect people to be on their mark, on top of their game.

“He could be quite fierce if things weren’t as they should be.”

Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein told the court he spoke with a complainer, who claims the accused sexually assaulted her, but she did not indicate she would be involved in proceedings against him.

Another witness said the former first minister was a “tactile, touchy-feely” kind of person but did not act inappropriately.

Former deputy private secretary Lorraine Kay agreed with Gordon Jackson QC, defending, that Salmond was “old-fashioned”.

She also said she had been alone with the former first minister at his official residence a “number of times” and she was unaware of any policy that would prevent such a scenario.

The court has previously heard from several witnesses that female civil servants had been stopped from working with him in Bute House alone during the evening after two alleged sexual assaults.

Alexander Anderson, who worked with Salmond for more than a decade, gave evidence he had not seen him assault anyone at Stirling Castle in 2014 or Woman A in Glasgow in 2008.

It was heard the witness was with the accused around the time of the alleged events.

Salmond is on trial over accusations of sexual assault, including an attempted rape, spanning a period between June 2008 and November 2014.

His lawyers previously lodged special defences of consent and alibi.

Consent was given as a defence for three alleged sexual assaults and an alleged indecent assault against three women.

The trial, before judge Lady Dorrian, continues on Thursday.

PA