By a Newsnet reporter
First Minister Alex Salmond has told the Leveson inquiry of his fears that his bank account was accessed illegally by the Observer newspaper.
Mr Salmond was giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry when he described a conversation he had with a former journalist at the newspaper, who he said told the First minister that his bank account had been accessed in the run up to the 1999 election in Scotland.
According to Mr Salmond, the journalist provided details of the account, which could only have been known to someone who had accessed it.
He said: “What I can say is that I believe that my bank account was accessed by the Observer newspaper in 1999.
“My reason for believing that is I was informed by a former Observer journalist who gave me a fairly exact account of what was in my bank account that could only have been known to somebody who had seen it.”
Mr Salmond recalled the journalist telling him of purchases the First Minister had made in a toy shop called ‘Fun and Games’ that had caused much mirth at the newspaper with colleagues speculating whether the shop was something other than a traditional toy shop.
He explained: “For example I bought some toys for my then young nieces in a toy shop in Linlithgow High Street which was called ‘Fun and Games’.
“The person who informed me told me this caused great anticipation and hope in the Observer investigation unit because they believed that perhaps ‘Fun and Games’ was more than a conventional toy shop.”
The revelation that the Observer may have hacked the First Minister’s bank account has taken the inquiry into a new dimension. Thus far proceedings have focussed on News International and the Murdoch Empire and suggestions that other newspapers may have been involved in illegal activities has been muted.
Mr Salmond also fielded questions on his relationship with Rupert Murdoch, with the First Minister confirming he had met with the media tycoon once a year over the last five years. Mr Salmond contrasted the five meetings he held with the very many meetings held by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.
Mr Salmond said he had met Mr Murdoch “five times in five years” which he believes was “pretty reasonable” and “isn’t in the same league as Mr Blair, Mr Brown or Mr Cameron”.
The First Minister also insisted that at no time had he sought the support of Mr Murdoch’s newspapers in return for political favours. The claims follow an email in which Mr Salmond was said to be willing to lobby UK Minister Jeremy Hunt over News Corps bid for BskyB.
Mr Salmond repeated his explanation that his lobbying would have been in relation to jobs and investment in Scotland and again explained that at no time has he sought the support of any of Mr Murdoch’s newspapers.
Mr Salmond’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry followed fevered speculation from the Scottish media over whether his phone had been hacked. Opposition parties had sought to use the speculation in order to attack the First Minister.
However the First Minister disappointed many journalists when he confirmed that investigations by Strathclyde police had uncovered no evidence that his phone had been hacked.