Alex Salmond inquiry: Former first minister hints at future action against Leslie Evans

Alex Salmond has revealed he is seeking some form of legal redress from the head of the Scottish Government over her failure to release information to Scotland’s highest court during a judicial review of how the government handled allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Former first minister Alex SalmondFormer first minister Alex Salmond
Former first minister Alex Salmond

In a 21-page submission to the Holyrood inquiry investigating the government’s botched handling of a misconduct probe, which led to the loss of a judicial review at a cost of more than £500,000, Mr Salmond also accused the government of “systematic” dishonesty.

He claims statements made to the Court of Session were “untrue” and the behaviour of the institution he once led was a “disgrace”.

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Mr Salmond also said he was “astonished” when it was revealed to the parliamentary inquiry that Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans had “met one complainer and phoned the other in mid process before contacting me on March 7, 2018”.

Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government.Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government.
Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government.

He said: “There is nothing in the procedure which allows for this and I would certainly have wanted to argue this in our judicial review petition as behaviour incompatible with the role of an impartial decision maker and further evidence of bias against me.

“The failure to disclose this meeting either in the civil or criminal case despite court orders is a serious matter which I intend to take forward with the appropriate authorities.”

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Mr Salmond is due to appear before the Holyrood committee next week to give oral evidence to MSPs probing the government’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations made against him.

Shortly after he won the judicial review in January 2019, Mr Salmond was charged with sexual assault, but cleared on all counts in a High Court trial in March last year.

He and his legal team have previously expressed concern about the lack of “disclosure” by the government, despite a “duty of candour” on the government as a public body and search warrants in the criminal case.

The government stopped contesting the judicial review after admitting its process had been “tainted by bias”. It had appointed an investigating officer who had been in prior contact with Mr Salmond’s accusers, when best practice should have ensured the investigator was independent.

Mr Salmond has also said the whole internal complaints procedure for civil servants is in itself “unfair”, but that was not tested in court.

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He and his supporters have claimed the allegations have been part of a conspiracy to prevent him returning to frontline politics.

In his submission, he says he has a witness statement that states that by November 2018 one of Ms Sturgeon’s special advisers said the Scottish Government knew that it would lose the judicial review “but they would ‘get him’ in the criminal case”.

He also claims that in a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister had “suggested that she would intervene in favour of a mediation process at an appropriate stage”, but that she “subsequently decided against such an intervention”.

Ms Sturgeon, who is also due to give oral evidence to the committee, has said she refused to intervene as it would have been inappropriate.

She is now being investigated to see whether she broke the Scottish ministerial code by misleading Parliament, which would be considered a resignation offence.

Mr Salmond said in his submission the Scottish Government presented a misleading and partial picture of events to the court during the judicial review, leading its external lawyers to threaten to quit unless there was full disclosure of documents.

“Documents were produced [late] which exposed many incriminating pieces of evidence against the government’s position,” the submission states.

“Furthermore it became clear that the government’s position until that point on the nature of the contact between the investigating officer was untrue.

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“We were also aware that the government’s position introduced into their pleadings was that the first time the First Minster knew of the complaints against me was on April 2, 2018 was also untrue.”

He went on: “The pattern of government lack of candour and a systematic failure to disclose has been deliberate and consistent since March 7, 2018.

“It continued through the judicial review process and then my criminal trial.

“To my astonishment, it continues to date with a persistent failure to produce all relevant documents to the parliamentary Inquiry, which has forced two parliamentary votes [to obtain government legal advice] and triggered an unprecedented procedure under section 23 of the Scotland Act [to compel the production of Crown Office documents].

"It has also seen the recall of a number of government witnesses to clarify and in some cases correct their evidence."

He added: “It remains a matter of deep regret that I had no option, but to take the Scottish Government to the Court of Session. I did so very reluctantly and only after every other avenue had been exhausted.

“But courts exist for a reason. They exist because when governments act illegally there must be a remedy for the citizen. In this case, the illegality was finally conceded, but only after a legal process which will have cost upwards of £750,000 of taxpayers’ money and which caused immense strain and distress to all involved.

"The behaviour of the government was, in my view, a disgrace, but actions have consequences. Accountability is at the heart of the Scottish Parliament.

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“The rule of law requires that those who have acted illegally are held to account. It is now the job of this committee to resolve how that is best done.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The points raised in this submission have been addressed previously. The First Minister looks forward to answering any further questions from the committee when she appears in person in due course.”

Yesterday the committee decided against making public text messages it had received from the Crown which involved the complainers in the criminal trial, saying they were “not relevant to the committee’s work” in its current inquiry.

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