The country’s top civil servant is facing fresh claims that she sought to “materially mislead” the public over the collapse of the Scottish Government’s case against Alex Salmond last week.
And Government documents seized by the Court of Session before they were made public are “legal dynamite”, according to the former first minister’s team.
Salmond won a dramatic victory over the government he once led at the Court of Session last Tuesday after it emerged that an inquiry into claims of sexual harassment against him by two women was “unlawful” and “tainted” by an appearance of bias.
The fall-out has left Nicola Sturgeon fighting for her political life after damaging revelations came to light about a series of meetings with Salmond – three in person and two phone calls – to discuss the investigation while it was under way.
Taxpayers are also facing a legal bill of up to £500,000 after Salmond won full costs and he is also considering suing the Scottish Government.
Salmond has already called on Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans to quit over the implosion of the case. A statement released by Evans immediately after the case insisted that a new “procedure” to oversee complaints against current and former ministers is “robust”.
Salmond had been challenging this procedure before a flaw in the way it was applied came to light. It emerged the head of the investigation, before being appointed to the role, had previously been in contact with the two women making the complaints and advised them on the issue.
It was on this basis that the government case collapsed on Tuesday and Evans stated afterwards: “All other grounds of Mr Salmond’s challenge have been dismissed.”
But this has been rejected by the former first minister.
“The Permanent Secretary is in denial and her claims are materially misleading,” a spokesman for Salmond said.
“She tried to suggest that the court rejected the arguments made by Mr Salmond which is absolutely the opposite of what occurred.
“The whole action was dismissed on the basis of the Scottish Government’s concession that they had acted unlawfully, as well as all of the expenses, and therefore we didn’t need to go any further in comprehensively winning the case.
“The Scottish Government case collapsed at the very first hurdle. They would have fallen at all the other hurdles as well if the case had continued to the full hearing.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “The court order is clear. It says that all other aspects of Salmond’s petition were ‘dismissed’.
“The Scottish Government co-operated fully with the court process for the recovery of documents.
“The full picture only became clear in December 2018 as a result of work being undertaken to produce documents in advance of the hearing.
“It was in light of that work that we agreed to settle the case. As the Permanent Secretary has made clear, the single procedural flaw which led to this decision is deeply regrettable.”
A separate police investigation has been launched into the claims made against Salmond dating back to December 2013 when he was first minister.
But once this has concluded Evans has made clear that the Scottish Government could re-launch an inquiry into Salmond – using the same procedure introduced in late 2017 in response to the global #MeToo movement.
This could raise the prospect of a fresh legal challenge from Salmond over his original contention that the process used to investigate him was unfair. He has previously claimed that he was denied access to witnesses and blocked from presenting his own side of the case.
The “flaw” over the links between the investigating officer and the two women need not have brought about the collapse of the government’s case. Ministers could have sought to have the case remitted for further action. Although this would still have meant a symbolic victory for Salmond, it would none the less have allowed the government to restart its inquiry, this time using the correct procedure.
Salmond’s spokesman added: “Their legal position was hopeless which is why their case collapsed before we even got to the first day of the hearing and interestingly before all the internal documents they were so reluctant to produce and required to be extracted from them by a commission ordered by Lord Pentland were discussed in open court. These documents are legal dynamite.”
It emerged that members of Sturgeon’s inner circle, including chief of staff Liz Lloyd, were among those to give evidence in the case before it collapsed.
Ministers have denied any link between this and the government conceding defeat.