Sturgeon quizzed after conclusion of Alex Salmond inquest
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The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has ruled Ms Sturgeon’s written evidence was “an inaccurate account of what happened, and she has misled the Committee on this matter” over when she first knew about Harassment Complaints against Mr Salmond. The Holyrood committee also found it “hard to believe” Ms Sturgeon’s evidence of when she first heard about concerns relating to the former First Minister’s alleged behaviour. The report said: “The Committee notes that there is a fundamental contradiction in the evidence in relation to whether, at the meeting on 2 April 2018, the First Minister did or did not agree to intervene.
“Taking account of the competing versions of events, the Committee believes that she did in fact leave Mr Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene.”
The Committee said it was a “potential breach of the Ministerial Code under the terms of section 1.3.”
It also said on Ms Sturgeon’s complaints prior to November 2017: “The Committee finds it hard to believe that the First Minister had no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond prior to [that time].
“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 Committee concluded the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and the resulting judicial review, was “seriously flawed”.
However, four SNP members of the Harassment committee members disagreed with the conclusion she misled the committee and said “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”.
On the judicial review, the Committee ruled the SNP 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 legal challenge.”
Earlier this month, legal advice released by the Government revealed its own Counsel warned Mr Salmond’s case was “more likely to fail than succeed” on October 31, 2018, and “the least worst option” would be to concede on December 6, 2018.
However, the Scottish Government insisted on fighting the case and did not concede to Mr Salmond until January 8, 2019.
The report concluded the Government identified all relevant documents and early in the process, complied with its duty of candour “fully and promptly”, the “fatal” flaw of contact between the investigating officers and the women who made the allegations would have been “brought to the fore”.
Regarding the Government’s handling of complaints, the Committee said the multiple roles being fulfilled by the Permanent Secretary during the complaints process should have been “seen as a risk.”
It added there was an expectation for the Government to undertake a thorough review and implement demonstrable measures.
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The Scottish Conservatives are now pressing ahead with a vote of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon, with Tory MSP and committee member Murdo Fraser warning: “As James Hamilton said yesterday, it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were in fact misled.
“The committee verdict is in – Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament and the public.
“If she ploughs on regardless, as she did against the advice of lawyers in the doomed Alex Salmond judicial review case, the First Minister will leave the country scarred by the most bitter divisions.
“It seems clear that Nicola Sturgeon will refuse to abide by the principle of democratic accountability for her Government’s monumental mistakes.
“The committee report indicates that even if the First Minister won’t be held accountable, numerous senior Government officials should consider their position.
“It is time for someone to accept responsibility for letting women down, wasting more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money, and the abundance of false and misleading statements from senior Government figures.”
The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was formed following a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond which resulted in the Scottish Government’s investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” in 2019.
He was awarded £512,250 in legal fees after the Scottish Government conceded the case just a week before it was due to be heard in court because of prior contact between the investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complaints.
Separately, following a High court trial in March 2020, Mr Salmond was acquitted of all 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape.
In the wake of the Me Too movement, a Scottish Government policy for handling harassment complaints was then drawn up, aimed at including former ministers in the complaints process for the first time.
This looked at different elements of the complaints policy that was used unlawfully, the handling of the allegations, Mr Salmond’s successful judicial review and the ministerial code.
Mr Salmond has accused Ms Sturgeon of a number breaches of the Scottish Government ministerial code and lying to parliament over meetings between the pair in 2018 regarding harassment claims made against him.
SNP leader Ms Sturgeon has strongly denied the allegations, branding the claims “conspiracy theories”, which an independent review by James Hamilton QC published on Monday cleared her of any breaches of the ministerial code.
She previously said she had been told about the allegations by Mr Salmond himself during a meeting in her home on April 2, 2018.
However, it was later found Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had met with the First Minister in her Holyrood office four days prior to that, where she was told of the complaints.
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