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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT

UK: Scotland

Perjury probe over Lobbygate evidence

Christina Marshall gives evidence to the committee hearing

Criminal charges could be brought against two witnesses who gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's sleaze inquiry - it emerged on Sunday

Finance Minister Jack McConnell's secretary, Christina Marshall, and Beattie Media PR executive Alex Barr gave conflicting stories to the high-profiled investigation by the Standards Committee.

[ image: Alex Barr's statement was at odds]
Alex Barr's statement was at odds
Their account of a telephone conversation had appeared to be at odds and Scottish Nationalist Party MSP, Tricia Marwick, said Ms Marshall had called it "a difference of recollection", but added: "In my view, there was a difference of fact".

Mr Barr told the committee that while organising a Finance Director of the Year event he rang Ms Marshall to ask if Mr McConnell would be interested in attending.

Mr Barr said Ms Marshall advised him that if he did not hear back within a couple of days, "you can consider it confirmed".

But Ms Marshall - in her evidence to the inquiry - repeatedly denied making such a statement.

[ image: Jack McConnell was cleared of wrongdoing]
Jack McConnell was cleared of wrongdoing
On Friday the committee cleared Mr McConnell of any wrongdoing but it also highlighted the differences in evidence between Mr Barr and Ms Marshall.

It is now a possibility that the pair will be subject to a police investigation into perjury.

Sources close to the Standards Committee confirmed legal advice was that if there was any suggestion of perjury in their report on the affair, the procurator fiscal could order a police investigation.

First Minister Donald Dewar said he would not comment on the possibility of a perjury inquiry.

'Major concerns'

He told BBC Scotland's Holyrood programme on Sunday: "I am delighted that the Standards Committee cleared any minister of wrongdoing."

However, Standards Committee convenor Mike Rumbles was willing to comment on the matter.

He said: "There are major concerns by committee members that we have conflicting evidence given under oath.

"It is obvious in the view of members that one of these two people was not telling the truth."

This is the latest twist in the long-running Lobbygate saga which began when two employees of the lobbying firm Beattie Media - Mr Barr and Kevin Reid, the son of Scottish Secretary John Reid - told undercover Observer newspaper reporters they could get privileged access to ministers.

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