THE UK government has once again refused an appeal for information about whether an investigation into northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael was deliberately delayed to avoid influencing the Liberal Democrat’s election campaign last May.
In a written reply to a Freedom of Information request by Shetland News into the timing of the inquiry into the private memo Carmichael leaked, the Cabinet Office said releasing such details could lead to “unhelpful speculation”.
Meanwhile the former Scottish secretary has been appointed as the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman by the party’s new leader Tim Farron. He has also been appointed to the House of Commons energy and climate change select committee.
Shetland News had originally asked the Cabinet Office to explain why it took seven weeks for the inquiry to find out that Carmichael had authorised his special adviser Euan Roddin to leak the memo to the Daily Telegraph in early April.
The inquiry did not report its findings until two weeks after Carmichael was re-elected with a vastly reduced majority of just over 800 votes.
It was only then that the MP admitted publicly what he had done, despite denying any knowledge of the leak during the election campaign.
The Cabinet Office refused an initial request for information about the reasons for the delay, which Shetland News then appealed.
In his reply, Cabinet Office deputy director Roger Smethurst reiterated the claim that divulging such information would not be in the public interest as it might “have an adverse effect on future investigation processes”.
Smethurst added: “In particular, the release of dates may allow a timeline to be constructed, which could allow the process of the investigation to be identified and lead to unhelpful speculation into the order or manner in which the investigation was handled, and into the investigation process.
“This would not be in the public interest, in that public authorities must be able to conduct investigations in the most effective manner, without presentational concerns in mind.
“This may ensue if there were concerns over fragments of information reaching the public domain without proper context.”
Shetland News is applying to the Information Commissioner to review this decision.
Carmichael has described his decision to leak the memo as an error of judgment.
He now faces a parliamentary standards inquiry into his actions, while in September the Court of Session will hear a petition brought by constituents in Orkney calling for his election victory to be annulled.
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