Police Scotland confirmed on Friday that they had escalated their investigation into two complaints of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond into a full-blown inquiry.
The move came as Nicola Sturgeon was urged to disclose what she knew of trade union concerns over the former First Minister’s treatment of staff after fresh ‘bullying’ claims emerged about his behaviour.
Ms Sturgeon and her fellow-ministers were urged to be “as open as possible” about claims there was an issue with Mr Salmond and bullying when he was First Minister.
Mr Salmond’s conduct come under renewed scrutiny after it was reported that civil service trade unions raised concerns almost ten years ago about the way he treated staff.
He hit back today, with Mr Salmond describing the allegations as “nothing more than anonymous malicious briefing” as he threatened legal action against those who published “defamatory material”.
Mr Salmond released his bullish statement after it was reported in the Daily Record that his temper had reduced staff to tears and ministerial behaviour led to unions insisting the Scottish Government introduce a formal system for dealing with complaints.
According to the newspaper, no formal complaints against Mr Salmond were made before he left office in November 2014 but concerns had been raised about his behaviour and other ministers.
Documents, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, have revealed that a new Scottish Government process for dealing with complaints against ministers was introduced in 2010.
The documents, which detailed how the Fairness at Work policy was arrived at, showed that trade unions raised concerns about the behaviour of ministers around a decade ago.
One of the documents referred to a “history of bad behaviour” by ministers in the former Scottish Office/Scottish Executive “and now the Scottish Government”.
Before the introduction of the Fairness at Work policy there had been no formal guidance for handling complaints.
The newspaper quoted a senior trade union source, who was involved in discussions about drafting the Fairness at Work policy.
The source said: “By 2009/10, there were people approaching the union saying there was an issue with Mr Salmond and bullying. A number of union reps had all heard the same thing from different sources so we were taking it very seriously because it was clearly a problem.”
Last night a Scottish Conservative spokesman suggested that Ms Sturgeon, who was Deputy First Minister at the time, should disclose what she knew about the concerns.
The Tory spokesman said: “There are legitimate questions to be asked about what Scottish Government ministers knew of the trade union concerns at the time.
“It’s only right that Scottish Government ministers seek to be as open as possible.”
A few hours after the latest allegations about Mr Salmond’s behaviour were reported, it emerged that Police Scotland had upgraded their inquiries into complaints of sexual harassment made by two women.
Mr Salmond has consistently denied ever sexually harassing anyone ever since the existence of the complaints were made public last month.
Until yesterday, Police Scotland had said it was “carrying out an assessment of information which we have received and enquiries are at an early stage.”
Yesterday the police updated the statement to read: “Our enquiries continue, we will not be commenting further.”
The new form of words is understood to indicate that Police Scotland has moved beyond the “assessment” stage where Scottish Government information was examined to a full blown inquiry where witnesses are expected to be contacted.
Mr Salmond is seeking Judicial Review against the Scottish Government over its handling of sexual misconduct claims made against him.
The former SNP leader, who has resigned from the party, was criticised when he launched a crowd-funding exercise to raise cash for his legal costs.
The crowd-funder saw more than 4,100 people donate more than £100,000 before it was closed.
Reacting to claims of bullying, a spokesperson for Mr Salmond said: “We will do our talking in Court. The Daily Record have been placed on specific notice on recent stories they have run against Mr Salmond. This latest material is based on nothing more than anonymous malicious briefing from unnamed sources and a complete misinterpretation of documents released under FOI last January. Mr Salmond is now entirely focussed on the upcoming Judicial Review in the Court of Session. However, at the appropriate time action will follow against The Daily Record and any other outlet who repeats defamatory material.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “No complaints about Alex Salmond were raised with the First Minister under this process when she was Deputy First Minister. As the First Minister has said, the first she became aware of the fact of any complaint against Alex Salmond is when he told her in April that he was under investigation. For legal reasons the Scottish Government can make no further comment on the issues relating to Mr Salmond at this time.”