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Sturgeon: I was unaware of prison death case

by Conrad Landin at Holyrood

SCOTTISH ministers were accused of “heavy-handed interference” in the freedom of the press today, as Nicola Sturgeon claimed she was not aware that one of her own government agencies had taken a newspaper to court until the case became public.

Last month the Sunday Mail published images of HMP Edinburgh prisoner Allan Marshall being dragged naked across a corridor and “restrained” with a towel over his face in an incident three years ago. Mr Marshall died in hospital while still in custody.

On Saturday August 24 the paper was told to attend a court hearing to stop publication of the images in the paper the following day.

At a hearing after midnight the Scottish Prison Service, which officially filed its interdict via the Scottish government, withdrew its objection to publication of the images.

The newspaper agreed to hold off publishing a video of the events pending full legal considerations. But prison chiefs dropped their case entirely on August 28, allowing the video to be uploaded online.

At First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) today, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard demanded to know who authorised the action.

Noting that a fatal accident inquiry had said Mr Marshall’s death was “entirely preventable,” he asked if Ms Sturgeon or her Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf was responsible.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “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.”

Mr Leonard went on to ask: “Does the First Minister regret this heavy-handed interference in the freedom of the press? Will she apologise to members of Allan Marshall’s family, who are in the public gallery in Parliament today?”

He also called for a “full independent investigation into her government’s actions.”

In a press briefing after FMQs, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman confirmed that Mr Yousaf had been informed of the court proceedings on the Saturday night.

But the spokesman said: “There’s a very clear distinction between being told it was happening and being involved in it.”

Asked if Mr Yousaf had informed Ms Sturgeon, the spokesman said: “No … the first the FM, as I understand it, became aware was when it came into the public domain.”

“[Mr Yousaf] was informed, but he wasn’t involved.”

The spokesman said Mr Yousaf had not made representations that the case should not be pursued.

Mr Marshall’s aunt Sharon MacFadyen, who attended FMQs today, said: “Allan’s death has devastated our family and the attempts to stop journalists reporting on what went on inside the prison was disgraceful.”

Following a meeting with Mr Marshall’s family, Mr Leonard and Scottish Labour justice spokesman James Kelly agreed to call on Holyrood’s justice committee to launch its own investigation.

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