Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon dismisses claim of 'malicious plan' to convict former first minister

Nicola Sturgeon has said claims of a “plot” to undermine Alex Salmond and a “fishing exercise” to drum up complaints against him was “not based in any semblance of fact or semblance of evidence”.

The First Minister also told MSPs on the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against her predecessor that she did not know the identities of all the complainers in the criminal trial, which saw Mr Salmond cleared of all charges.

Asked by SNP MSP Alasdair Allan about Mr Salmond's claims that “various people were trying to manufacture allegations against him”, Ms Sturgeon refuted the suggestion that emails sent out to SNP staff were a “fishing exercise”.

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"After the situation with Alex became public, communications went to all members and staff,” she said.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she doesn't know the identities of many of the complainers in Alex Salmond's criminal trial.
Nicola Sturgeon has said she doesn't know the identities of many of the complainers in Alex Salmond's criminal trial.

"That was a duty-of-care move. When you have high-profile situations like this, I think most organisations should and are right to perform that duty of care role – not a fishing exercise, but if you have concerns, here’s how you raise them.”

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She added: “I appreciate Alex can’t be objective in this, but from any objective point of view I think it’s not just a reasonable thing to do, but appropriate thing for the SNP to have done. It dismays me to hear suggestions that people were concocting or making up allegations.

“A number of women came forward of their own free will. Did they support each other along the way? Some of them evidently did. To try to suggest that’s something it’s not is seriously wrong.

“To this day I don't know the identity of every single complainer in the criminal trial. Some of those whose identity I do know I don’t know them well. And to the best of my knowledge, they don’t know each other well.

“The idea this is some kind of concoction or plot is just not based in any semblance of fact or semblance of credible evidence.”

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Salmond's allegations of a “concerted malicious campaign” needed to be evidenced by him.

"There have been references repeatedly to material handed to his defence as part of the criminal trial,” she said. "By definition that must have been seen by the police and the Crown.

"There were applications to have that introduced into the criminal trial and the court decided it wasn’t relevant, but if this material showed what Mr Salmond believes it shows, then somebody in the police or Crown or court might have seen that too, and the fact that they didn’t ... people might want to draw some conclusions from.”

The First Minister said she had attempted to find out about the apparently contentious text and WhatsApp messages sent between senior SNP staff and between the complainers in the criminal case.

"Every single one [of the messages] ... are completely the opposite of what he’s trying to suggest,” she said. “They’re taken out of context, misrepresented, twisted.

"From what I’ve seen, they are people supporting each other, people talking to each other, yes a bit of gossip about what’s been going on – remember this was a massive thing for the SNP particularly those who had worked with him – and also people co-operating with police inquiries.

"Some of what’s been represented as trying to find or concoct evidence is, in fact, people co-operating with the police, so I’ve seen nothing that comes within a million miles of backing up that central assertion Alex was making.”

Ms Sturgeon admitted Mr Salmond could be “tough to work with” and there were times “I would tell him he’d gone over the score”.

Many who had known him for years had become “inured” to his behaviour she said.

Earlier Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton had asked if referring the complaints to the police had been the “right thing to do” as the complainers had not wanted to involve them.

“On balance yes, it was,” said Ms Sturgeon. “When the Permanent Secretary wrote to me on 22nd August, that referral had been made by that point.

“I find myself, in all of the charges levelled at me and government, is to pose the counter-factual. So had the Permanent Secretary been sitting with allegations she thought had substance and involved alleged criminality, and not passed that to the police and that had later come out, the questions would be getting posed would be just as serious, but from the opposite perspective.

“ACAS guidance talks about a need to refer to the police even when people don’t want that to happen. The Scottish Government has a duty if it thinks criminal acts have been committed to do something about that.”

Asked if the government should have considered arbitration and mediation before the judicial review was lodged – and as had been suggested by Mr Salmond – Ms Sturgeon said “these things were considered and the government came to the view these weren’t appropriate things”.

She said: “My view is that on mediation the complainers didn’t want that, and it would have been inappropriate to force into a process that didn’t in of itself allow for that. And then arbitration of a public procedure is not immediately obvious to me that would have been the right thing, or necessarily quicker or cheaper.

“The issue for me was, was it appropriate for me to intervene to try and bring either about and I don't think it was. Again, had I done so I would have been facing serious criticism.

“I’m not questioning that Alex thought they might have been appropriate, but I had the strong impression they were devices to stop these complaints coming to the point of decision and if I had intervened to try to bring them about I would have felt I was effectively colluding with him to thwart the natural course of an investigation, which would have been a heinous breach of my position."

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