Hamilton report into Nicola Sturgeon's conduct around Alex Salmond harassment cases to stay secret

The independent report into Nicola Sturgeon’s conduct around the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond will remain heavily redacted following a transparency probe.

The First Minister was handed a reprieve by the independent adviser on the ministerial code, James Hamilton, when he ruled she had not broken any rules around her conduct. It was widely considered to be the decision which spared the SNP leader from having to resign over the scandal.

He was asked to investigate whether Ms Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code due to her meetings with Mr Salmond and with Geoff Aberdein, the former first minister’s chief of staff, held while her predecessor was being investigated by the Scottish Government.

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The report was heavily redacted due to court orders prohibiting the publication of the identity of certain individuals due to the criminal and civil cases involving Mr Salmond.

The former first minister was acquitted of sexual offence charges following a high profile trail in March 2020, with the First Minister found to have misled parliament by a parliamentary committee around her knowledge of the complaints against her former mentor.

When publishing his report, James Hamilton highlighted the fact he was left “deeply frustrated” that court orders prevented the full publication of the report. He said this made it “impossible” to give an accurate description of some events and prevented a full understanding of what occurred.

In a note attached to the report, he said: “In particular, I have been advised by my own independent legal adviser that nothing may be published which could identify certain particular individuals, some of whom had a significant role in certain events.

"A redacted report that effectively erases the role of any such individual in the matters investigated in the report cannot be properly understood by those reading it, and presents an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what happened. In earlier drafts of the report I attempted to anonymise certain individuals in such cases but these attempts were not successful.”

The Hamilton report ruled the First Minister had not breached the ministerial code over her handling of harassment complaints made against Alex Salmond.

"I am deeply frustrated that applicable court orders will have the effect of preventing the full publication of a report which fulfils my remit and which I believe it would be in the public interest to publish.”

The contents of the redacted sections of the report are the last remaining questions in the Salmond saga. They will now remain unredacted for the foreseeable future following a transparency probe.

This newspaper asked the Scottish Government to release an unredacted version of the report, eventually escalating it to a full appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner to challenge the extent of the redactions.

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However, in a clear, decisive, and unsurprising result, the information commissioner ruled that no additional information could be published without breaching the relevant court orders.

In the decision notice this week, the head of enforcement at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office said: “the amount of speculation as to the identities of the complainers, particularly given the high profile of Mr Salmond, means that any information disclosed in relation to the complaints is highly likely to be scrutinised, in conjunction with other information already in the public domain, in an attempt to identify the individuals.

“Having carefully considered the information, the Commissioner is satisfied that disclosing the information would lead to the identification of the complainers, either directly or indirectly, contrary to the civil and criminal orders.”

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