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Sturgeon misled Holyrood committee over Salmond investigation, report finds

© PAFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the committee
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the committee

Nicola Sturgeon misled a Scottish Parliament committee, an investigation into the Scottish Government’s unlawful handling of harassment allegations against Alex Salmond has concluded.

The findings are separate from those of James Hamilton, who reported on Monday that there had been no breach of the ministerial code by the First Minister over her role in the saga.

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints found a “fundamental contradiction” in her evidence on whether she agreed to intervene in a Scottish Government investigation into complaints by two woman against the former first minister.

It said that, in a meeting at her Glasgow home on April 2 2018, Ms Sturgeon “did in fact leave Mr Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene”.

The report continued: “Her written evidence is therefore an inaccurate account of what happened, and she has misled the committee on this matter.”

The committee found this is a potential breach of the ministerial code but added that Mr Hamilton’s report was the “most appropriate place” to address the question of whether Ms Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code.

The four SNP committee members did not agree with the finding that she misled the committee, which was among the conclusions leaked last week.

The report states the committee “find it hard to believe” Ms Sturgeon had “no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond prior to November 2017”.

It continues: “If she did have such knowledge, then she should have acted upon it. If she did have such knowledge, then she has misled the committee.”

The four SNP committee members again disagreed with this statement, saying it “does not distinguish between bullying behaviour and sexual harassment”.

They claimed “some evidence to the inquiry indicated that the former first minister could display bullying behaviour” but “there has been no suggestion the First Minister was aware of sexual harassment”.

The report states the committee is “concerned” that Ms Sturgeon did not disclose details of her meeting with Mr Salmond to the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, until June 6 – more than two months after the meeting at the First Minister’s home.

The committee found she should have told Ms Evans “at the earliest opportunity” and immediately stopped contact with Mr Salmond, instead of continuing to meet him.

The four SNP committee members also disagreed with this finding.

The cross-party inquiry was set up after a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the Scottish Government’s investigation into the allegations against him being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” in 2019.

He was awarded a maximum payout of £512,250 after the Scottish Government conceded the case a week before it was due to be heard in court because of prior contact between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complaints.

The committee found the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “seriously flawed” and the women who made the allegations were “badly let down”.

It concluded that the Scottish Government was responsible from an early stage “for a serious, substantial and entirely avoidable situation that resulted in a prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence” of the civil case.

Had it identified all relevant documents and complied with its duty of candour “fully and promptly” early in the process, the “fatal” flaw of contact between the investigating officers and the women who made the allegations would have been “brought to the fore”.

The committee said this is “unacceptable” and those responsible should be held accountable.

The committee made a series of recommendations to ensure future complainants can have confidence in the process and prevent similar mistakes.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani said: “Throughout this inquiry there has been speculation and rumour around the work of our committee.

“I have always been clear that at the heart of this inquiry are two women who made complaints of sexual harassment.

“These women were badly let down by the Scottish Government, but they have also been let down by some members of our committee.

“I am truly dismayed by the hurt some of the committee leaks will have caused them. I apologise to them unreservedly. This is not who we should be as a committee of this Parliament.

“Our inquiry was a chance to reflect on what went wrong with the Scottish Government processes and ensure that the failings these women experienced never happen again.

“There are undoubtedly some extremely serious findings in our report and it was clear to the committee that there were serious flaws made in the Government’s application of its own process.

“The Government must address these to ensure anyone who experiences sexual harassment has the confidence to come forward.”

Ms Fabiani told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that whoever leaked the information should have the “honour” to come forward.