Nicola Sturgeon refers herself to watchdog over Alex Salmond meetings

Nicola Sturgeon has referred herself to a panel of independent advisers on the ministerial code over her handling of the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Alex Salmond.

The First Minister is facing questions over why she met and spoke to Mr Salmond on a number of occasions while the investigation was ongoing.

The Scottish Government lost a legal challenge against its handling of the case after it emerged that a civil servant in charge of the investigation had previously met with the two women who lodged the complaints. The case has cost the taxpayer £500,000.

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First Minister Nicola SturgeonFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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“It is in the interests of the women who have complained that the ongoing police investigations are allowed to continue without any risk of prejudice. That must be the priority for everyone.

“Questions have been raised about my meetings and telephone calls with Alex Salmond during the Government’s investigation into the complaints which were made.

“I have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout, and in compliance with the Ministerial Code at all times.

“However, I have reflected carefully and understand that it is also important for Parliament and the wider public to be assured of that.

“I have therefore decided to refer the matter for consideration by one or both of the Independent Advisers on the Ministerial Code.”

Under the ministerial code, all meetings relating to government business must be set up by civil servants and officially recorded.

The independent panel, which consists of former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini and the former Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland, James Hamilton, will be consulted on the remit of their inquiry into the First Minister’s actions.

Ms Sturgeon added: “The fact remains that at the centre of this issue are two women whose complaints could not be swept under the carpet.

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Any continuing commentary about these issues at this stage – whether from myself, the Government or Mr Salmond and his representatives – would only serve to distract from and potentially compromise the proper consideration by the police of the subject matter of their investigations.

“That is something we will not do.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Nicola Sturgeon has done the right thing in accepting Scottish Labour’s call for her to refer herself under the Ministerial Code.

“Transparency is now absolutely essential in order for the public to have confidence in the First Minister and the Scottish Government.

“That is why we should also see a full, public parliamentary inquiry in to what exactly has happened – and I look forward to working constructively with members from other parties this week in order to secure that.

“It is also now essential that the Scottish Parliament is given the power to fully review the outcome of this investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code.”

Mr Leonard added: “Throughout this process it is essential to remember that at the centre of all of this are two courageous women who put their faith in a system that has badly let them down, and we must never lose sight of that, by safeguarding the duty of care to them and their access to justice.”

“We must restore trust and confidence in the system.”