By a Newsnet reporter
A senior member of the anti-independence Better Together campaign has distanced himself from an official statement issued by the campaign group that suggested Yes Scotland emails at the centre of a hacking investigation had not been illegally accessed but had in fact been leaked.
Rob Shorthouse, who is the Better Together communications director, was responding to questions put to him by Newsnet Scotland after an official statement issued by the anti-independence campaign claimed no hacking had taken place and that their rivals had wasted police time.
In the statement issued yesterday, the Better Together campaign referred to: “… damaging allegations contained in the leaked emails …”
Better Together also claimed Yes Scotland had attempted to “deceive” the Scottish public and had been guilty of “wasting police time”
Asked whether he stood by the claim that the Yes Scotland had deliberately leaked the emails, Mr Shorthouse replied:
“I did not claim that they were deliberately leaked. I said – and I will repeat – that the story was a deflection tactic and was used by Yes Scotland staff to attempt to intimidate journalists.”
The controversy surrounds claims in August that internal emails belonging to Yes Scotland had been illegally accessed and that confidential information had ended up in the possession of a journalist.
Speaking at the time, Head of Yes Scotland Blair Jenkins said the campaign’s Internet Service Provider and the Police had both confirmed that external and unauthorised access to Yes Scotland email had occurred.
“At the moment it remains a mystery to us which force, or forces are involved in this – but what we do know is that there has been a serious and sustained and ongoing illegal access to our communications system, our main email system here at Yes Scotland and there is an ongoing police investigation into this.” he said.
Mr Jenkins added: “All we know at this stage is that this has been a serious assault, criminal assault on the Yes Scotland campaign designed to cause as much damage and disruption as possible.”
The Yes Scotland campaign had been alerted after a journalist inadvertently revealed information that could only have come from an email account used for Yes Scotland business. Yes Scotland then reported the matter to the police and an investigation got underway.
Yesterday Police Scotland issued a statement revealing they had found no evidence that official Yes Scotland email accounts had been hacked.
The Better Together campaign immediately responded by attacking Yes Scotland, accusing the pro-independence campaign of wasting police time and of trying to deceive the public. The statement from Police Scotland also led to many in the pro-Union camp to claim that no illegal accessing of Yes Scotland communications took place.
However police also revealed that their investigations were now focussed on a private email account belonging to a senior Yes Scotland member which contained confidential Yes Scotland communications.
According to Police Scotland, the “communications with Yes Scotland were illegally accessed”, police also cryptically added that accessing the material had not been the prime motive of the culprit.
Asked by Newsnet Scotland how police knew the prime motive of the culprit and whether they had identified a suspect, a Police Scotland spokeswoman said she could provide no further details.
However in a surprise twist one newspaper reported that someone had contacted Yes Scotland and admitted he had accessed the email account. According to the Courier newspaper the person threatened to release more confidential information unless the police complaint was dropped.
The paper also reported allegations that the individual had contacted all senior members of Yes Scotland including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and made similar threats.
In a statement to Newsnet Scotland yesterday a spokesman for Yes Scotland confirmed a hacker had indeed used information gleaned from Yes Scotland communications in order to contact team members and said: “Police Scotland has confirmed to us that enquiries are ongoing into the illegal hacking of a personal email account of a senior member of the Yes Scotland team.
“This account was being used for Yes Scotland business and there is no dispute that the information being unlawfully accessed from it related directly to Yes Scotland.
“Indeed, the hacker used information hacked from this account to make direct contact with members of the Yes Scotland Advisory Board.”