Inquiry into Nicola Sturgeon's meetings with Alex Salmond to begin

An independent inquiry into whether the First Minister broke the ministerial code of conduct by meeting with Alex Salmond and failing to record their conversations while her government was investigating harassment allegations against him, is to go ahead.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with her predecessor Alex Salmond while on the 2015 General Election campaign trail.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with her predecessor Alex Salmond while on the 2015 General Election campaign trail.

The investigation into Nicola Sturgeon's actions had been put on hold while Police Scotland conducted a criminal inquiry and the subsequent trial of Mr Salmond, in which he was acquitted of sexual assault allegations. It was also further delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

However Deputy First Minister John Swinney today revealed that the probe will “re-commence” in light of the progress made in dealing with Covid.

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In a written answer to SNP MSP Clare Adamson he said Ms Sturgeon’s self-referral to the Scottish Government's panel of independent advisers would now go ahead as soon as possible, and will be led by a former Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland, James Hamilton.

He will investigate whether Ms Sturgeon broke the Scottish Ministeral Code in failing to "feed back the basic facts of meetings and discussions held with Alex Salmond to her private office.”

Ms Sturgeon is said to have met with Mr Salmond and his former Chief of Staff on March 289, 2018 in the Scottish Parliament, on April 2 in her home, and on June 7 at the SNP conference in Aberdeen. There was also a telephone call on April 23, a further meeting between the pair on July 14 and a second phone conversation on July 18.

It has been alleged that during these conversations she “may have attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation” being undertaken by the Scottish Government's Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, into allegations of harassment made against Mr Salmond.

The former First Minsiter challenged the government’s handling of the investigation in court and it was ruled to be biased and unlawful, and a Holyrood committee is now examining the affair, which cost over £500,000 of public money.

Under the Ministerial Code, if government ministers meet external organisations or individuals “and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday – any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their Private Offices as soon as possible after the event, who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded”.

Mr Hamilton will now be able to review any relevant documentation relating to the meetings, interview any government minister or official – including special advisers – “who may have any knowledge of the facts and content of the meetings and discussions” and can also interview any relevant person outwith the government – including Mr Salmond – who may have “information relating to the facts and content of the

meetings and discussions.”

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He will then decide if there is any evidence that the First Minister “attempted to use information discussed during those meetings and discussions to influence the conduct of the investigation being undertaken by the Permanent Secretary” and whether the Ministerial Cose was breached.

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