FORMER finance secretary Derek Mackay fled through the backdoor of a committee room and out through the Scottish Parliament’s basement to avoid reporters.

The former MSP was giving evidence at the Public Audit committee in Holyrood over his role in the Ferguson Marine scandal on Thursday.

Mackay stepped down in February 2020 after more than 100 inappropriate messages he sent to a 16-year-old boy were made public by the Scottish Sun.

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He did not stand for re-election in May 2021 and has not been seen in public since the scandal broke.

Around a dozen reporters waited for Mackay to exit Committee Room 1 after he had given nearly an hour’s worth of evidence over the ferries contract, while one lone journalist stood at the other entrance in case he tried to dodge the press.

Which he did. Mackay did not exit the room through the door with waiting broadcast journalists or the rest of the press lobby but was escorted out by what appeared to be a Holyrood staff member, down two sets of stairs and a long corridor to a basement exit.

He was ushered through a back door into a corridor where empty bins, upturned chairs and lockers sit, close to the changing rooms used by MSPs.

The National: Mackay on his way to give evidence to the Public Audit committeeMackay on his way to give evidence to the Public Audit committee (Image: PA)

The single journalist who managed to stay on Mackay’s tail put six or so questions to the former MSP while he dashed out of the back door – but he remained tight-lipped and refused to answer.

Mackay was asked if he would take the opportunity to apologise for his actions to the public and his constituents if he had any response to Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw’s suggestion he had been “grooming” the teenage boy he was caught messaging, or if he had anything to say about the at least £130,000 in salary and grants he received after the scandal when he refused to quit as an MSP.

The former MSP declined to comment, but his chaperone told the journalist that he was only a “public audit witness and not an MSP”.

Critics have claimed the ferries contract was rushed to allow for an announcement to be made at the SNP conference in 2015, but the former minister rejected the assertion during the session.

Craig Hoy, Tory MSP for South Scotland, asked about media reporting that Jim McColl, Ferguson Marine’s owner, was “close to the party”, and did Mackay foresee any “political risk” arising from that?

He responded: “No, I mean, nobody was ever compromised on that matter and the decision to award the contract to Ferguson was based on Fergusson’s bid, nothing else.”

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Hoy probed Mackay on if he had concerns after he wasn’t there when the decision for preferred bidder status was made, and if he felt he was being set up as the “fall guy” by the Scottish Government in the aftermath of the scandal.

Mackay said: “I said in my opening remarks to committee that I'll take my share of responsibility, and I'll answer robustly any decision that I have taken, and I take my share of responsibility.

“But equally, I recognise the catastrophic failure at Ferguson's to complete the vessels on time and on budget. That is deeply regrettable, but what I don't regret convener is protecting the workforce and ensuring that the yard was supported, it has a future, and we were able to support Scottish shipbuilding.

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“So, I can answer for my decisions and my involvement, I was a proactive minister, and I did carefully consider all the submissions and happy to explain through the rationale of every single one, whilst also taking my share of responsibility.”

Mackay also said he “can’t imagine” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was involved personally in the procurement of the ferries.

Douglas Ross raised Mackay's exit at FMQs claiming he had been "smuggled out" by parliament staff during his questioning on ferries.

The FM said she had not had the opportunity to "look at all the evidence he [Mackay] gave to the committee".