Leslie Evans agrees to answer question on Alex Salmond

Scotland’s leading civil servant has said she will answer a question about former First Minister Alex Salmond, which was shut down by the chair of Holyrood’s inquiry into the handling of sexual harassment complaints.

Leslie Evans, next to Nicola Sturgeon, has said she will give evidence about the culture of the Scottish Government when Alex Salmond was First Minister.
Leslie Evans, next to Nicola Sturgeon, has said she will give evidence about the culture of the Scottish Government when Alex Salmond was First Minister.

Leslie Evans, the government’s Permanent Secretary, has written to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints to say she is “willing” to answer a question put to her by Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser on whether female government staff were warned not to be alone with Mr Salmond.

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Mr Fraser had raised the disputed claim which was first made during Mr Salmond’s separate criminal trial, at the first meeting of the committee last Tuesday. However chair, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, said it was not an appropriate line of questioning and Ms Evans did not answer.

Later, along with fellow committee members, Jackie Baillie and Alex Cole-Hamilton, Mr Fraser wrote to Ms Fabiani querying her decision and stating their belief it was within the committee’s remit.

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Mr Fraser also accused Ms Evans of “ducking” the question, which he said was “not a good look for someone who cost the Scottish public more than £500,000.”

Today Ms Evans, in a letter to the committee giving follow-up information, said that she would be “willing" to answer the query in writing.

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She said: “I thought it would also be useful to take this opportunity, in the light of extensive media coverage, to offer a comment in relation to my response to Mr Fraser’s question on whether “female civil servants were advised not to be alone in the company of the former First Minister” and your decision to disallow that question.

"I fully appreciate you will have had reasons, based on the Committee’s remit and the various legal restrictions in place, for disallowing that line of questioning. However, I would like to make clear that - contrary to some media reports - I am very willing to write to the Committee to address this issue.”

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The committee inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled its own probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018. He launched a judicial review into the process in the Court of Session, and the outcome was an admission from ministers it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, and a £512,000 bill for Mr Salmond’s costs.

The MSPs are also looking at whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the Scottish ministerial code by staying in contact with Mr Salmond while her officials were investigating him.

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Ms Evans, who was under oath, was the committee’s first witness and gave evidence on the development of the complaints process which was used against Mr Salmond.

Responding to Ms Evan's letter, Mr Fraser MSP, said: “Leslie Evans has certainly changed her tune since she refused to answer my question last week.

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“It appears that pressure from the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish public have convinced the SNP Government that they need to be far more honest and upfront about what they knew and when.

“But we don’t need Leslie Evans to merely write to the committee. Given her attempt to dodge the question at the first time of asking, it is only right that she now appears before the inquiry again, as soon as possible, to face the scrutiny she avoided the first time.

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“There can be no hiding place behind a letter for Ms Evans on a matter as serious as when she knew about claims that female civil servants were not allowed to be alone with Alex Salmond.”

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