Amidst the tacky souvenir shops and cafe bars, on the slick wintry cobbles of the Royal Mile, a gaggle of curious Spanish visitors inquire about the police and barricades gathered outside an austere court building. 'It's the ex-First Minister. He's on trial,' explains a helpful passer-by. Without further chat, the tourists have their phones aloft, hoping to capture a photo or two. A routine incident in one of Europe's photogenic cities.
Inside Court 3 of the High Court, a less alluring tableau is being played out. The former First Minister is in the dock, facing 14 charges of sexual misconduct involving 10 women. The Crown began their case on Monday, in a trial that is expected to stretch into four weeks. It is being heard by Lady Dorrian before a jury of nine women and six men.
'Woman H', the first alleged victim to give evidence in the Salmond trial, described two late-night incidents at the First Minister's official residence, Bute House, during May and June 2014.
The woman, a former Scottish Government official, recounted a series of struggles in the drawing room and an upstairs bedroom on 13 June 2014. Having fended off the then First Minister's advances, she had tried to pacify him by pretending she would stay the night, if he went to his own bed. The First Minister, who had impeded her and repeatedly touched her body in the drawing room, appeared in a bedroom she had moved into in an attempt to find somewhere that she could lock the door and call a friend for assistance. He had brought wine and told her he just wanted to talk.
She described a struggle as akin to 'being in the ring with Muhammad Ali,' adding: 'I wish in hindsight I had just screamed or kicked him in the nuts, but I was so frozen, I was panicking inside. He would not stop. He was not listening'. She said Mr Salmond stripped naked and also took off her clothes as she tried to resist.
The attack had begun after the woman was left alone with Mr Salmond following an evening event at Bute House. They had discussed ongoing activities connected to the referendum campaign, the incident taking place just three months before the vital poll was due.
During the previous month, Woman H said she had experienced a similar incident involving Mr Salmond. They had been drinking and the First Minister was 'half cut', she alleged. On that occasion she had managed to 'talk my way out of it,' she told the court. Mr Salmond denies both that assault, and the alleged attempted rape of 13 June.
Woman H said that she had attempted to raise the subject of the previous incident – to say it must not happen again. She said Mr Salmond appeared to take that as a challenge. She told the court repeatedly that she had not wanted a sexual encounter with Mr Salmond, whom she described as her 'boss'.
Yesterday, Woman H said that she had kept details of the incident to herself for a considerable time afterwards. 'The First Minister was a very powerful man and I didn't want to get on the wrong side of him,' she added.
The advent of the #MeToo movement, that followed revelations about the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, had prompted painful flashbacks of the Bute House incidents, added Woman H. She made tentative approaches to the SNP about getting an anonymous complaint lodged on the record. 'I didn't want anyone else who worked for him to have what happened to me happen to them. I wanted it on the record – he was an ex-parliamentarian by then, but it would be there if he ever sought public office again.'
The first assault is alleged to have taken place sometime between 1 and 31 May 2014. The defence has lodged a special defence of alibi, detailing Mr Salmond's whereabouts on 23 days in May. The special defence also claims that in the case of four charges involving three other women, known as Woman B, Woman D and Woman F – all Scottish Government civil servants – the activity was consensual.
Woman H, recounting the 13 June incident, told the court that earlier she had felt 'hunted' by Mr Salmond. Finally, she had managed to push him off, as he was attempting to have sex with her. 'He told me I was being stupid, then he passed out. He was snoring.' She said that she had remained still for a period of time, before moving to an adjacent bathroom where she lay on the floor 'in the foetal position' until the coast seemed clear to leave. 'I was scared. I was in shock for a long time. It was like a trance.'
She said she dressed and left Bute House via the basement, catching a taxi home in Queen Street. 'I did not want anyone to know this guy had touched me. He had other women and I did not want to be considered as that. I was really scared.'
Cross-examined by Shelagh McCall QC, junior counsel for the defence, Woman H agreed that she had hoped to become an SNP candidate for the 2016 Holyrood elections, but withdrew because she had been unhappy with the selection process. Her decision to take further action about her complaint followed publication of the news that the Scottish Government had reported various allegations about Mr Salmond in August 2018. She agreed that a civil servant, known to the court as Woman A, had been doing a 'ring round' to various former colleagues. She felt encouraged to take her case further with party officials and the police.
Mr Salmond faces 14 charges involving 10 women. These include a charge of attempted rape and another of assault with intent to rape. The other charges include 10 of sexual assault and two of indecent assault, alleged to have taken place on various dates between 2008 and November 2014. He has pleaded not guilty to each charge.
The prosecution is being led by advocate depute Alex Prentice QC. The defence is led by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, with Shelagh McCall QC as junior counsel.