Freedom of the Press

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. What value does the First Minister place on the freedom of the press?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I place huge value on the freedom of the press, as I hope that every democrat and member of Parliament does. Perhaps that is a note of consensus that we will be able to strike in this question session.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

Let me examine recent events. On 25 August, the

Sunday Mail published the shocking story of Allan Marshall, who died after being held in custody in Saughton prison. At the fatal accident inquiry, the sheriff ruled that Allan’s death was “entirely preventable”. When the

Sunday Mail sought to shine a light on that in the public interest, Scottish ministers went to court in the middle of the night, seeking an interdict to prevent the newspaper from reaching the news-stands. The Government’s case collapsed and was dropped. The paper was published.

Will the First Minister tell us when it was decided to serve the interdict to ban the publication of the

Sunday Mail on 25 August? When did she become aware of the interdict being served? Did she authorise the legal action? Was it the Cabinet Secretary for Justice? Was it both of them?

The First Minister:

It was neither. The decision was taken by the Scottish Prison Service, and it decided later not to proceed with the action in the circumstances. I think that that decision was the right one.

First and foremost, my condolences—and, I am sure, all our condolences—go to the family and friends of Allan Marshall.

When any individual is in the custody of the state, serious obligations lie on the state to respect the dignity and human rights of that individual. When concerns are raised, it is important that they are properly considered and scrutinised. That is what has happened and will continue to happen in that case. There has been a fatal accident inquiry, and the outcome of that inquiry has led to a number of recommendations, which the Scottish Prison Service is now considering fully. It has a matter of weeks within which to put forward its response. The Scottish Prison Service is also taking a number of other actions to ensure that lessons are learned for the future policy of our prison service.

That is the right way to proceed, although none of that takes anything away from the grief and anguish of Allan Marshall’s family. As I said at the outset, my thoughts remain very much with them.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

A week later, the

Sunday Mail reported:

“It’s understood Mr Yousaf was informed at 11.30pm on Saturday night. Lawyers acting for the Scottish Prison Service rejected attempts to resolve the matter out of court after that point.”

Let us be clear: Allan Marshall died following a shocking incident in prison service custody. The sheriff says that his death was “entirely preventable”. The Government went to court in the dead of night to keep it out of the public eye. Does the First Minister regret that heavy-handed interference in the freedom of the press? Will she apologise to the members of Allan Marshall’s family who are in the public gallery today? Will the First Minister agree to a full, independent investigation into her Government’s actions, including how much money was wasted, her role and the role of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the matter, and will she publish the findings?

The First Minister:

First, I had no role in it. The decision to initiate court action was taken by the Scottish Prison Service, as an employer, to allow for a fuller consideration to be undertaken. The Scottish Prison Service then decided not to proceed with that action, which I think was the right decision.

The closed-circuit television footage was viewed by the fatal accident inquiry. I have since viewed the CCTV footage in full, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has offered to meet Allan Marshall’s family. I repeat my deepest condolences to them.

I take such matters extremely seriously because I take very seriously the responsibilities of the state when individuals are in custody. Their human rights continue to require to be protected and respected. Therefore, in such situations, if there are lessons to be learned, it is vital that they are learned. The fatal accident inquiry was a critical part of that. HM inspectorate of prisons for Scotland has been asked to oversee the further work that the Scottish Prison Service is undertaking so that any lessons that require to be learned are learned.

It is up to this Parliament’s committees to decide whether they want to carry out further inquiries into what happened; it is not for me to interfere with that. However, Richard Leonard should be under no illusions about the seriousness with which my Government and I treat such issues.