The former diplomat Craig Murray has been jailed for eight months after repeatedly breaching a court order protecting the identities of women who accused Alex Salmond of sexual assault.
Murray, a blogger who describes himself as a historian and human rights activist, was found guilty last month of breaching the order in a series of blogposts attacking the decision to prosecute Salmond for 14 counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape.
Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, said Murray’s offences were so serious and deliberate he deserved imprisonment, despite a plea from his lawyer that the 62-year-old was too infirm to go to jail, and had a young family.
She said his repeated breaches, which included refusing to take down the blogposts despite legal warnings from the Crown Office, were a “contempt of considerable gravity”. His actions “strike at the heart of the fair administration of justice”, she added.
Dorrian delayed the start of Murray’s sentence for three weeks after his defence lawyer, Roddy Dunlop QC, asked for time to lodge an appeal. Dorrian had originally ordered Murray to present himself at a police station in Edinburgh on Thursday morning to be taken into custody.
After being cited for contempt last year, Murray claimed he was the victim of a witch-hunt, winning support from activists including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, the rock musician Roger Waters, the playwright David Hare and the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Sitting with Lords Turnbull and Menzies, Dorrian, the lord justice clerk, said Murray’s actions had not only risked identifying four complainers but could also frighten rape complainers, the Scottish legal term for complainants, from stepping forward in future, particularly in high-profile cases involving powerful defendants.
Several of Murray’s followers said they had identified complainers as a result of his blogposts, yet he continued to keep them online.
Murray “understood the risk inherent in the action he was taking, deliberately decided to run that risk knowing that jigsaw identification of the complainers might result, and did so repeatedly. It appears from the posts and articles that he was in fact relishing the task he set himself.”
Murray was also ordered to surrender his passport by 19 May, after Dunlop told the court he was due to appear as a witness in a hacking trial in Spain involving Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.
Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, argues Assange is being unjustifiably persecuted for exposing wrongdoing by western intelligence agencies, and had been acting in the public interest.
Murray claims he is fulfilling the same role in his blogging about the Salmond case, alleging the former Scottish National party leader and first minister was the victim of a conspiracy involving the Scottish government, the SNP and the lord advocate, James Wolffe QC.
Salmond was cleared of all 14 assault charges after a high court trial last year.
This is the second time a Salmond supporter has been jailed for contempt for breaching the anonymity order. In February, the independence activist Clive Thompson, from Rosyth in Fife, was sentenced to six months after naming complainers on Twitter twice last year.
Others have also done so, but have not yet been prosecuted. Salmond and his supporters, many of whom split from the SNP to join his new pro-independence party, Alba, insist he is the victim of a conspiracy designed to wreck his reputation and political career.
Three independent inquiries, one by a cross-party committee of MSPs and two by senior lawyers commissioned by the Scottish government, reported earlier this year they could find no evidence of any conspiracy or collusion.