Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon denies knowing of any leaks

Nicola Sturgeon has denied she knew of any leak of a complainant’s name to Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff or that she knew anything about the leak of the government’s investigation into the former first minister to the Daily Record.

Appearing at the Holyrood inquiry on Wednesday that is investigating how the government lost a judicial review into its handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond, the First Minister was pressed on claims that a senior member of her team had leaked the name of one of the women involved to Geoff Aberdein.

Mr Aberdein’s account of this leak was supported by letters to the committee published on Tuesday night, from the former SNP director of communications, Kevin Pringle, and a former SNP MSP, Duncan Hamilton, who both claim they were informed contemporaneously by Mr Aberdein that he had been told the woman’s name.

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However, Mr Aberdein’s own written evidence to the committee has not been published because of legal constraints.

Nicola Sturgeon leaves her home in Glasgow to head to Holyrood in Edinburgh to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into her government's unlawful investigation of the former First Minister Alex Salmond.Nicola Sturgeon leaves her home in Glasgow to head to Holyrood in Edinburgh to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into her government's unlawful investigation of the former First Minister Alex Salmond.
Nicola Sturgeon leaves her home in Glasgow to head to Holyrood in Edinburgh to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into her government's unlawful investigation of the former First Minister Alex Salmond.
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Scottish Labour's Jackie Bailie said it was an "extraordinary breach of confidentiality" that Mr Aberdein had been told the name, which had then been passed to Mr Salmond, and that it was a "sackable offence".

She also demanded to know if the First Minister or Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans had authorised the meeting between Mr Aberdein and the anonymous government official.

But Ms Sturgeon said she refused to accept Ms Baillie’s “characterisation” of what had happened.

"I am not accepting that that happened, therefore I am clearly not accepting that was authorised,” she said, saying the event was a "matter of contention".

She added: "Certainly in relation to one of the complainants Alex Salmond was pretty clear he had found, through investigations of Scottish Government social media accounts, who that was.

"And in relation to the other one, and this is the bit I am perhaps speculating on, it must have been the case when he got that letter [from the government telling him of its investigation into his alleged actions], because he knew about the incident because he had apologised to the person.

"So my assumption would be that he would have known that without anybody having to tell him. And I know from what he told me he found out the identity of the other one through his own investigations."

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Ms Sturgeon said at the meeting between her and Mr Salmond at her home on April 2, 2018 he had been “open with me about the identity of one complainant, because he knew”.

She said: "He knew about the identity of one complainant because he knew about the incident, because he had apologised to the person concerned.

"I can't recall if the name of the other complainant was shared openly on April 2. But he also knew the identity of that complainant because I remember him talking about how he had gone through the Scottish Government [image-sharing website] Flickr account to find out who had been with him on particular days.

"He knew the identity of both complainants, in one respect because he knew about the incident and in the other respect through his own investigations."

Ms Sturgeon also said the senior government official involved had given evidence to the independent investigator James Hamilton QC, who is investigating whether the First Minister breached the ministerial code, and suggested the committee could do similarly.

However, Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser said Mr Aberdein’s claim had been corroborated by Mr Pringle and Mr Hamilton, and asked who would corroborate the government official’s take on events.

"I was not a party to this discussion, but my understanding is it didn’t happen,” she said.

“Duncan and Kevin were not party to that discussion. I am making an assumption here, based on what I know about this and what Mr Salmond shared with me, but I can’t work out why Mr Salmond wouldn’t have known that from his own knowledge.”.”

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Asked why Mr Aberdein would give evidence that was untrue, Ms Sturgeon added: “I have not heard or seen Geoff’s evidence. We are dealing with personal relationships that go back a long time. I am not here to cast aspersions on anyone’s bona fides or sincerity, but clearly there are differing recollections and accounts.”

Mr Fraser asked why the police were not investigating the leak, “which is a criminal act”. But Ms Sturgeon said she was “trying to respect the processes already underway and allow them to run their course”.

The First Minister was also quizzed on the leak of the investigation to the Daily Record newspaper, but said the idea of commenting publicly on the investigation made her feel “physically sick”.

Ms Baillie asked her where she believed the leaks originated. "I don’t know where they came from. I can tell you they didn’t come from me, or anybody acting on my authority or instruction, or on my request,” said Ms Sturgeon.

“I can be as certain as I can be they didn’t come from anyone in my office. The second story had some considerable detail, which Alex Salmond says could only come from the decision report – I was never sent the decision report.

“I was of the view that I should not act in a way that would sweep these complaints under the carpet, so I would not have acted to block any sort of comment on the outcome of this had it been the case the government thought that was the appropriate thing to do.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “But that’s not the same as saying I wanted this to be in the public domain. Since I first became aware of what Alex Salmond was facing, the thought of it becoming public and my having to comment on it horrified me absolutely horrified me, it made me feel physically sick.

“There was no part of me that wanted to see that in the public domain, I had nothing to gain from it.”

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