Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon facing new questions on when she first knew of complaints against former first minister

A previously unreported meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans has led to renewed questions on when the First Minister first new of allegations of sexual harassment against her predecessor Alex Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon is facing fresh questions on when she first knew of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond

The Scottish Sun reports a meeting between the First Minister and the Scottish Government’s most powerful civil servant took place on November 29, 2017 to discuss the complaints procedure.

At this point, the complaints procedure was yet to be finalised by the Scottish Government and an early draft of the process included the provision for the First Minister to be informed if complaints against former ministers were raised.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Two complaints, from Ms A and Ms B, had been raised with key civil servants at this stage, but were not formally lodged until January 2018.

These complaints led to the investigation of Mr Salmond’s conduct and the eventual concession of the judicial review action brought by the former first minister.

A week after the previously undisclosed meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Evans, the procedure was changed, with the First Minister now no longer being informed if complaints were brought against a former minister.

Read More

Read More
Analysis: The endgame of the Alex Salmond Inquiry is upon us

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said Ms Sturgeon had signed off on a procedure that “insulated her from the process playing out just outside her office”.

Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour committee member, added: “These revelations demand straight answers from the First Minister.

“This committee will uncover what role she had in this fiasco and get to the truth so that these mistakes are never repeated again.”

The committee is examining the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond by the Scottish Government, which led to a £500,000 legal bill after the Government conceded a judicial review challenge on the grounds of the process being “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial last year.

The former first minister is set to give evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday following weeks of back and forth with the committee.

The expected publication of Mr Salmond’s evidence on the ministerial code and the potential breach by Ms Sturgeon has been described as a ‘bombshell’ by opposition parties.

The Sunday Mail reported the former leader of the SNP was expected to continue his assault on the Scottish Government's handling of the judicial review and will claim the Government concealed key documents from its own and Mr Salmond’s lawyers.

One source close to Mr Salmond told the paper: “Alex will be ­pulling no punches when he describes the full extent of the ­Government’s debacle in court.

“They have now repeated the same pantomime of deception and secrecy in front of the Parliamentary Committee.

“The Government’s behaviour is often described as ‘botched’. In fact, it was much worse – it was judged ‘unlawful’, ‘procedurally unfair’ and ‘tainted by apparent bias’ – and very costly for the public.”

Mr Salmond’s evidence – to be given one week before Ms Sturgeon is expected to give her side of the story – comes as three major figures within the Scottish Government and the SNP are being tipped to lose their jobs due to the scandal.

The Sunday Times reports Ms Evans is among those likely to be heavily criticised in the report by the harassment complaints committee, along with Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd and chief executive of the SNP and Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell.

Reports claim that SNP MSPs are “preparing to throw her [Ms Evans] under a bus” following her handling of the scandal and her heavily criticised appearances in front of the committee.

An SNP MSP told the paper the mistakes in the complaints procedure were “a mess of Leslie Evans’s own making” and the Government’s handling of the inquiry suggested that they had “something to hide, rather than something to provide”.

Mr Murrell is likely to face a similar fate, it has been reported, due to his evidence sessions.

Ms Lloyd, a key ally of Ms Sturgeon, is also facing mounting pressure.

Following the conclusion of the main evidence sessions following Ms Sturgeon’s appearance during the first week of March, the committee will consider the evidence and compile its report.

The committee’s remit includes examining mistakes made during the development of the complaints handling process, the handling of the complaints themselves, the judicial review action brought by Mr Salmond, and the potential breach of the ministerial code by Ms Sturgeon.

It is likely to be critical of the Scottish Government's handling of the process at every stage, including the inquiry itself.

Ms Sturgeon could also face the prospect of being found to have breached the ministerial code – a act the code states should lead to resignation.

If the committee does not find the First Minister did breach the code, the independent ministerial code adviser James Hamilton QC’s concurrent investigation could do so.

Reacting to the reports around the Salmond Inquiry, the Scottish Conservative spokesperson on the committee, Murdo Fraser, said the buck must stop with Nicola Sturgeon if she is found to have broken the ministerial code.

He said: “It was her Government who botched the investigation and cost the public purse at least £500,000 in pursuing a lost cause. And it was her Government who so badly let down the women involved in this case.

“The First Minister’s inner circle including her husband and senior officials have serious questions hanging over them in relation to their own conduct. However, Nicola Sturgeon cannot use them to hide behind.

“She must stand up and take responsibility for the SNP Government’s failings as they investigated her predecessor. She promised to be fully co-operative with this inquiry but has been obstructive at every turn.

“If she’s found to have broken the Ministerial Code, then she must resign.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.