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Civil service chief goes fourth as Salmond escalates attacks on her conduct

© PANicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond whilst on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency.
Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond whilst on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency.

Alex Salmond’s scathing verdict on the conduct of Scotland’s most senior civil servant has emerged days before she is called back to give evidence to MSPs for the fourth time.

She will give ­evidence on Tuesday to MSPs investigating how the Scottish Government mishandled sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond after her previous testimony prompted a series of questions.

In a letter from Mr Salmond, included in documents released by the parliament on Friday night, the former first minister criticised her conduct during the inquiry and questioned a series of decisions taken by her before the inquiry was eventually ruled illegal in court, with Mr Salmond being awarded more than £500,000 in costs.

His criticism emerged as his accusation that his successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had misled the Scottish Parliament and broken the ministers’ code was published. He says her claims to have forgotten the meeting when told of the claims against him was “untenable”.

In the letter to the ­committee of inquiry, he highlights Leslie Evans’s decision to ask police to investigate complaints of sexual harassment against him after she “apparently ignored” the wishes of the alleged victims and rejected his offers of mediation without consulting the women. He said Nicola Richards, the Scottish Government’s director of people, “specifically highlighted the view of the complainers against criminal proceedings, and this was apparently ignored by the Permanent Secretary”.

Ms Evans told MSPs in September she was “not completely aware” of who informed the police. He told MSPs documents that show “it was made on her instruction by Ms Richards via the unusual route of the Deputy Crown Agent”.

© PA
Leslie Evans

Mr Salmond was cleared of 14 sexual assault charges last year after a High Court trial.

His letter, which also accuses Ms Evans of “apparent bias”, was sent to the committee on December 14 and published on the Scottish Parliament website on Friday. He also wrote: “The offer of mediation was relayed to the complainers after it had been rejected by the Permanent Secretary.” He added: “The Scottish Government’s attempts in its timeline and explanations to conceal this from the committee are reprehensible.”

Committee member and Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “It is important complainers were at the heart of this process, and it looks as if on at least two occasions the Permanent Secretary failed to consult or simply ignored their wishes. But perhaps the more serious charge is that she too lacked impartiality in the process. These are issues the committee will want to explore.”

Ms Evans will give further evidence to MSPs on Tuesday in a virtual meeting as part of Covid-19 restrictions at Holyrood.

The government’s most senior civil servant, who earns around £170,000 a year, was previously forced to apologise for misleading MSPs. She said she was unaware of any role played by special advisers in the legal battle against Mr Salmond. It later emerged that she attended talks with Nicola Sturgeon and Liz Lloyd, the first minister’s chief of staff.

SNP membership in despair over rift between Salmond and Sturgeon

Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon are also due to give evidence by video link later this month, but MSPs want them to appear in person and are considering calling them later.

We told last week how Mr Salmond also questioned the accuracy of evidence given under oath by the SNP’s chief executive, Peter Murrell.

His lawyers wrote to the committee and the Crown Office raising “serious concerns” about the evidence of Mr Murrell, who is married to the first minister.

Mr Salmond has also claimed Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament when she knew about allegations against him.

He wrote to James Hamilton, the independent adviser on the ministerial code who is conducting a separate investigation into Ms Sturgeon.

The first minister initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor at a meeting with him at her home on April 2, 2018.

But in Mr Salmond’s subsequent criminal trial, it was revealed Ms Sturgeon had been made aware of the allegations in an informal meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 that year – four days earlier – with Ms Sturgeon later telling the inquiry she “forgot” about the encounter.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Permanent Secretary has already addressed these issues at committee. Mediation was initially declined as the process was at a fact-finding stage; the further offer from Mr Salmond’s lawyers was then rejected by the complainers. The decision to refer the matters to the police was based on legal advice.

“The procedure sets out that the Scottish Government may refer matters to the police, even if the complainer does not want this. The Scottish Government cannot ignore serious allegations that could amount to criminal behaviour.”