'Cover-up' accusations amid reports official 'asked to change account of Alex Salmond complaint knowledge'

Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government have been accused of a “cover-up” amid reports a government official asked to change an account of when they knew about harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.

There have been calls for the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to answer questions around the allegations.

Calls for answers have come from opposition politicians after reports in Sky News that an unnamed official who works for Nicola Sturgeon asked for a press statement to be changed relating to the claims.

The official allegedly asked for a quote to the press to be changed due to fears for their job.

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It is understood the change is alleged to be related to a draft statement to the press and covered when they “knew” about the complaints, which was later altered to refer to “suspicion”.

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The alleged statement covers the record of a conversation in which they detailed when they knew and how much they knew about the complaints and which pre-dates the earliest time the First Minister claims she knew about the complaints.

Whether Ms Sturgeon knew of complaints about Mr Salmond prior to April 2, 2018 is key to whether she will face calls to resign for potentially misleading Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon initially stated she first knew about complaints against Mr Salmond on April 2. However, a meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had taken place on March 29, 2018 – a meeting Ms Sturgeon claimed she had initially forgotten.

Mr Salmond has claimed the meeting in March included a discussion of the complaints, calling the suggestion Ms Sturgeon was not aware of them prior to the April 2 meetings “wholly false”.

The political fall-out has continued after multiple women came forward in the wake of the MeToo movement in 2017 with concerns about Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour.

The Scottish Government launched an investigation into the complaints that was subsequently found to be unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, resulting in a legal bill of £500,000 to Mr Salmond.

The latest revelations have led to calls for answers from opposition politicians.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said it was a “clear attempt at a cover-up”.

He tweeted: “Statements have been manipulated and the truth has been deliberately hidden.

“This is a clear attempt at a cover-up and an abuse of power at the heart of government.

“The First Minister must answer for it.”

Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour member on the inquiry and deputy party leader, said: “This bombshell revelation demands answers from the First Minister.

“It is all too clear that senior officials at the very heart of the Scottish Government have attempted to conceal when they first knew of allegations made against Alex Salmond.

“The people of Scotland and the women involved in the case deserve answers as to why those at the heart of the Scottish Government have seen fit to spin and deceive on this most serious issue.”

Mr Salmond has been given a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ offer to give evidence to the Scottish Parliamentary inquiry into the botched handling of the harassment complaints on February 2.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to give evidence on February 9 and will be the last witness in front of the inquiry.

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