Former Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael MP cleared over memo leak “blatant lie”

The Lib Dem MP for Orkney & Shetland has been cleared by the election court over lying that he didn't leak a memo about the First Minister before the election.

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The election court has thrown out an attempt to unseat the Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael.

The MP for Orkney & Shetland has been caught up in a row about a memo leaked from his department when he was Scotland Secretary just before the general election. The memo stated that the First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon had told the French ambassador that, “she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM”.

Carmichael was found by the court to have told a “blatant lie” by saying during a Channel 4 News interview that he had not come across the memo until after it was leaked by his special adviser and a journalist contacted him about it. He was in fact aware of the memo and authorised his adviser to leak it to the press.

In spite of this lie, the court ruled that Carmichael should not lose his seat, because there is “reasonable doubt” over whether it constitutes a false statement of fact “in relation to [his] personal character or conduct”. If he had lied about his personal character more explicitly, this would have breached section 106 of the Representation of the People Act, which rules candidates are not allowed to lie about their opponents or themselves.

Carmichael has called the case brought by a petition to unseat him “politically motivated”, and, according to a party source, is considering making the petitioners cover his £150,000 legal fees.

Here's his full statement, following the court's decision:

“I am pleased with the decision of the court.

“Although I was always confident of winning the last few months have been a difficult and stressful time for me and my family.

“We have been enormously grateful for the tremendous levels of support received from local people, in both Orkney and Shetland, regardless of which political party they normally support.

“This support has sustained us and we are very thankful for it.

“I should also like to thank my legal team, especially Rosie Walker and her colleagues at Gilson Gray who have been professional and caring throughout.

“This case was politically motivated. It was a deliberate attempt by nationalists to remove the last Scottish Liberal voice at Westminster, and is a mark of the unhealthy polarisation of Scottish politics since the referendum.

“I shall continue to represent Orkney and Shetland as a Member of Parliament to the best of my ability, as I have done for the past 14 years.

“These are very special communities, and it is where my wife and I have made our home and where we are bringing up our family. The interests of the Northern Isles have always been, and always will be my first priority. It remains an honour and a privilege to be their Member of Parliament.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron commented:

“This was the right outcome and Alistair’s focus will remain on delivering for the people of Orkney and Shetland in Parliament.

“Since the election, despite the distraction of the case, Alistair has continued to be an incredibly strong voice for Orkney and Shetland.

“He has done a huge amount for the Northern Isles over his time in Parliament and will continue to work to the best of his abilities.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, commented:

“The Scottish judicial system has vindicated Alistair’s election as MP for Orkney and Shetland. In the face of this politically motivated and often ugly legal campaign it has been a difficult time for Alistair, his family and his friends. But it is now over.

“His top priority now, as it always has been, is doing what he does best; standing up for the people of Orkney and Shetland and being a strong Scottish liberal voice in Parliament.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.