Blogger Craig Murray was clearly in contempt … but perhaps the SNP will use case to restrict reporting in the future

CRAIG Murray achieved martyrdom, whether by intention or not, but certainly either through wilful ignorance or total recklessness, by providing the alleged “jigsaw” identification giving the identities of the women complainers alleging sexual assault by Alex Salmond.

It’s important to stress the difference between English and Scottish law on anonymity in these cases. Well, actually, there is no law here on it, as there is in England – just a convention that the media will not name complainants in advance of the trial.

Ironically, and unfortunately, for Murray, it was Alex Salmond’s legal team who, at the start of the trial, asked for the court to impose an anonymity order, which was granted. So Murray, and indeed anyone, could have named the women before the order was granted and, in his defence and to his credit, he didn’t do so.

For the trial, Murray was refused accreditation which was only to bona fide reporters and media. And Murray is certainly not a journalist. He didn’t hear the evidence of the complainers. He then went into the public gallery for a couple of days before he was banned from the court because of his blogs.

I read these blogs contemporaneously, and they were totally and slavishly one-sided in favour of Salmond (missing the women’s evidence, how could they be anything else?). He makes no secret of being a devout follower of, and campaigner for, the former leader. A fan with a tablet in the gods. Salmond was, of course, acquitted.

As a young reporter I wrote a contentious court report and the paper’s lawyer reviewed it and took me aside. “Far be it for me to interfere with your promotion prospects,” he said. “but if this is published the editor will surely go to jail.” I clearly didn’t learn because I was later done for contempt, although not over anonymity.

Murray is also not a lawyer and what he wrote was clearly in contempt. What it wasn’t and what it didn’t do was to provide the jigsaw elements, identifying the complainants, on which Lady Dorrian convicted him. I defy anyone outside the journalistic, legal or SNP bubbles to piece together the identities of the women from his blogs. It can’t be done.

Murray was not given the right to be judged by his peers, a jury. Eight months in jail is a savage and unjust sentence. It is the breaking of the butterfly – and an ailing one – on the wheel. I sympathise with Murray, although he shows no sign of contrition.

I suspect that the SNP, after this legal farrago, will bring in legislation restricting reporting and, like England, make it a statutory offence to name complainers in sexual assault cases. If so, should it also be like France, where the accused is anonymous until conviction?

Chaos theories

It’s described as a virtuoso performance by Salman Rushdie (but don’t let that put you off) and it is that and more. The Master Of Chaos And Other Fables, by Pauline Melville, is a collection of 14 brilliant, diverse and utterly intriguing short stories, laced through with dark humour, each one you feel could and should be expanded into a novel.

The gift is that when you close the last page of each one there’s the mingling of satisfaction and regret.

One story imagines a conversation between Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary about their suicides. What a brilliant idea. At one point, Anna snaps closed her book (by Tolstoy) and asks Emma if she wants to read it. “I don’t think so. Not if it doesn’t have a happy ending.” Emma continued to grumble about her author: “I don’t think Flaubert could have approved of me if he gave me such an unattractive death. I like books where death is more romantic.”

Then there’s the Nobel Prize-winning author whose writer’s block is so severe that he can’t even pen his own suicide note. The communal flat in Saint Petersburg where the skint tenants see there’s an EU grant for Russian writers who promote moderation and tolerance in accordance with the value of the EU, which seems like a grand and moneymaking wheeze. Each one’s a gem.

Melville was born in Guyana to an English mother and a mixed-race Guyanese father, part-South American Indian, African and Scottish, and her work stretches across continents and ethnicities. She’s able to speak in the voices of the inhabitants, authentically and with humour.

She started out as an actress – she was in Mona Lisa and The Long Good Friday, two of my favourite films – as well as TV series The Young Ones. Her writing has been garlanded, from the Commonwealth Writers’ prize to the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Ventriloquist’s Tale.

This book is published by Scottish independent Sandstone Press, based in Muir of Ord, and why not? It’s running a Twitter competition promoting it, with a small prize. One of the topics two fictional characters who meet in a waiting room. Sherlock Holmes and Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch?

If the Master of Chaos doesn’t win big prizes there’s going to be havoc in Edinburgh’s literary salons, I vow.

Batty decision

Still in Muir of Ord, there’s a real-life tale which could fit into Pauline Melville’s canon. Jaki Pickett owns the local chippie. She created her own superhero to promote it called, of course, Batterman (is vinegar, like Kryptonite, his downfall?).

Drawing on Gotham City’s police distress signal, the bat sign in the sky summoning the man himself, she wanted to send her own alert about the chippie’s special offers and discounts, 15 miles into the night air with her powerful searchlight. What better sight on a dank winter’s evening when you’re heading across the Kessock Bridge than to see a quid off a fish supper?

The Civil Aviation Authority gave it the thumbs-up but those miserable killjoys in Highland Council’s planning department ruled it breached some obscure town and country planning ordinance, probably involving joy. This is where police states start.

A sound fella

A DECADE after he died, a new album by Gerry Rafferty – assembled and augmented from demos by his daughter Martha – is coming out in September. It’s called Rest In Blue and it has cover artwork by John Byrne who did the City To City and Night Owl albums. I’ve heard the first single – Slow Down –

and it’s a cracker.

I travelled on the train from London to Glasgow once and bumped into him. It was in 1978, I think. He wasn’t then widely famous and had fallen out with his record company, either because they had refused to put out Baker Street or wanted to change it. He said he had pinched the master tapes and they were in his luggage, and he was going to hide them until they caved in. They must have.

Rafferty loathed the trappings of stardom and refused to extensively tour the States to promote his most famous song, when it and the album City To City were number one.

He didn’t have much time for record companies either. Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwell recounts a potential signing meeting he had with Rafferty: “I would rather sign Gary Glitter than that man,” he said. “He really can’t stand anyone in the music industry, anyone in the music publishing industry, and all he wants to do is write songs for his daughter.”

An all-round good guy.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992