Alex Salmond inquiry LIVE: Sturgeon asked why nobody in government resigned over botched handling of probe

NICOLA Sturgeon has been grilled over why nobody in the Scottish Government resigned over the botched handling of the Alex Salmond probe.

The First Minister said it would have been “highly inappropriate” for her to intervene by acting on Alex Salmond’s request to bring about a process of “arbitration”.

Ms Sturgeon said events leading up to the Scottish Government conceding its civil case against Alex Salmond were “catastrophic”.

But she rejected her old mentor’s claim that the court battle was continued in the hope criminal charges would “overtake it”.

Ms Sturgeon said it would have been “highly inappropriate” for her to intervene by acting on Mr Salmond’s request to bring about a process of “arbitration”.

She insisted there wasn't a fishing expedition to find new complainers against her former boss after initial claims were referred to police.

It comes after the SNP leader revealed she had a “lingering suspicion” before she was told of complaints against Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018.

The First Minister also slammed “absurd” claims there was a plot against her predecessor and said she wasn’t out to “get” Alex Salmond.

The ex-FM lodged an official complaint over claims a complainant's name was given out by a government official to his chief of staff – but Ms Sturgeon denied the allegations.

On Friday, Mr Salmond said he has "no doubt" that Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code – but said it wasn't for him to say if she should resign.

  • Justin Bowie

    'FRUSTRATED'

    A MEMBER of Holyrood's Salmond inquiry has lashed out at how "frustrated" she has been by the Scottish Government's "partial and late" provision of documents.

    Branding it "disrespectful" to the committee of MSPs, Labour deputy Jackie Baillie said: "I don't think I have felt quite so frustrated in my 22 years of being on parliamentary committees as with this one."

    She highlighted parliament has held two votes to obtain legal advice from the government's judicial review case against Mr Salmond, the loss of which Ms Sturgeon earlier admitted was "catastrophic".

    The Scottish Labour MSP added: "I find that really disrespectful to the committee."

    Ms Baillie said despite the release of some key legal notes last night, "we simply do not have" all of the advice.

    She said: "We have waited till the 11th hour for the legal advice. We get partial legal advice.

    "Do you understand the frustration of the committee? Do you understand that it looks as though the government doesn't want to give us critical information?"

    Ms Sturgeon said she understood and added: "Sitting here right now I am glad you have got the legal advice so that I can talk about it openly today.

    "But I have a concern about getting into a situation where government legal advice is routinely asked for and published, because I think that will undermine the basis on which governments properly inform their decisions."

  • Justin Bowie

    'BIG IMPLICATIONS'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said her refusal to intervene in the government’s investigation into Alex Salmond has had “big implications” for her relationship with him.

    The First Minister said it would have been “deeply inappropriate” for her to have complied with his request to bring about a process of arbitration, which may have prevented him taking the government to a judicial review.

    She said: “If I had used my role, my influence, my power, to get him an outcome he wanted, not as a former First Minister but as the person who was subject to these complaints, I think that would have been an egregious breach of my power.

    “I think it would have been wrong and deeply inappropriate. In all of this, there has been a lot of personal angst for me and others – me least of all – in all of this."

    Read more HERE

  • Justin Bowie

    'LITANY OF FAILURES'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has been grilled on why no one in her government has resigned over the botched and unlawful handling of its harassment probe of Alex Salmond.

    Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie noted the First Minister herself had described the circumstances around the conceding of the civil case against Mr Salmond as "catastrophic".

    She said there has been a "litany of failures" in the affair and asked: "Why has nobody resigned or taken responsibility for this?"

    Ms Sturgeon acknowledged she has "profound concerns" that the events of the past two years will have damaged women's confidence in coming forward with similar complaints.

    She said the government must bear responsibility for that and said "people got things wrong", but added: "This situation of complaints emerging against Alex was horrendous for everyone dealing with it."

    And on what went wrong and the repercussions, the FM stated: "We are still in the process of investigation and inquiry into all of this."

  • Justin Bowie

    'HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said it would have been “highly inappropriate” for her to intervene by acting on a request from Alex Salmond to bring about a process of “arbitration” in the government’s investigation.

    The First Minister said it was not her decision to reject Mr Salmond’s suggestion the matter could be resolved privately as it was “part of the process of the handling of the investigation that I wasn’t involved in, and didn’t intervene in”.

    She said the predecessor had messaged her suggesting “I should be intervening to bring about a process of arbitration”.

    Ms Sturgeon told the committee: “I think it would have been highly inappropriate for me to intervene on Mr Salmond’s behalf to try to bring any particular outcome about.

    “This was an investigation that I was not part of, I had no role in, I wasn’t even supposed to know about it. And I would have been intervening on behalf of a friend and a colleague and an associate.

    “The complainers didn’t have the ability to come to me and ask me to intervene to get something they wanted to happen in the process. I would have been giving him privileged influence in a process that I wasn’t meant to have part.

    “People have strong views about my conduct and that’s perfectly correct and I will defend that and I will take people’s judgement of that.

    “But if I had done that, if I was sitting here right now having done that, I think the criticism that would be raining down on my head would be absolutely and utterly justified.”

  • Justin Bowie

    'ABSURD'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has rejected as "absurd" a key Alex Salmond claim that the Scottish Government continued in its doomed civil court battle against him in the hope criminal charges would "overtake" it.

    The First Minister said that once the police investigation against Mr Salmond began in August 2018, the government looked at the possibility of "sisting" or pausing the civil proceedings.

    She told the Holyrood inquiry it would have been "extraordinary" if it hadn't at least been considered, but insisted it was not a major factor in discussions with lawyers.

    Shortly before police announced charges against the former First Minister in January 2019, the government's case in the judicial review brought by Mr Salmond collapsed, costing taxpayers over £600,000 in legal fees alone.

    But Ms Sturgeon said the "evidence" Mr Salmond has claimed supports his theory dates back either to August 2018 – before the government realised the civil case was in trouble – and January 2019 after the case had already collapsed.

    She added: "The idea that we were gaming the timing of the judicial review to allow a police investigation to overtake it is absurd and bizarre and just completely without foundation."

  • Justin Bowie

    'CATASTROPHIC'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has admitted the events which led up to the Scottish Government conceding its civil case against Alex Salmond were "dreadful" and "catastrophic".

    Asked who is to blame for that, the First Minister said she is accountable as head of government but said she would not "throw blame" around at other officials.

    Tory inquiry member Murdo Fraser quizzed her on an "astonishing note from senior and junior counsel" on December 19, 2018, around two weeks before the judicial review was conceded, which was revealed in yesterday's release of legal advice.

    The note from lawyers came after Mr Salmond had successfully launched a 'Commission and Diligence' process to recover documents which were withheld by the government against its "duty of candour" in the case.

    Mr Fraser said: "The counsel refers to the regrettable way in which the document disclosure was unfolded, the extreme professional embarrassment that they have faced in court.

    "They say that the havers who are cited for the commission hearing will expect the torrid time in the witness box. They say the late nature the revelations are unexplained and inexplicable."

    He added: "I mean, this is catastrophic, is it not?"

    The First Minister replied: "That was catastrophic and that's what led to the ultimate concession."

    But she said "up until around that point" despite reservations from senior counsel, her own legal officers, including the Lord Advocate, thought they had a "stateable" case.

    However, Ms Sturgeon said: "That which you've described there was dreadful, catastrophic. That is at the heart of what went wrong in the just judicial review."

  • Justin Bowie

    HITTING BACK

    NICOLA Sturgeon has denied there was a fishing expedition to find new complainers against Alex Salmond after initial claims were referred to police.

    Mr Salmond has claimed evidence exists showing government and SNP officials sought out women who might come forward after the initial harassment investigation was made public and police began a probe.

    The First Minister conceded to the Holyrood inquiry that, in some instances, specific ex-staffers were approached – but stressed this was a "duty of care".

    And it comes after messages were revealed from her husband, SNP chief exec Peter Murrell, which suggested putting "pressure" on cops regarding Mr Salmond.

    Read more HERE

  • Justin Bowie

    'LINGERING SUSPICION'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted she was first informed of the two formal complaints about Alex Salmond by him on April 2 2018 – but told how she had a “lingering suspicion” there was something “in the undergrowth that might surface” before then.

    The First Minister said a Sky News media query in November 2017 which related to Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour at Edinburgh Airport had left her with a “feeling of unease”.

    She said she was made aware that either Mr Salmond or his lawyer had been contacting people in the civil service following that query being raised.

    Ms Sturgeon told the committee: “I can’t put this any more firmly than I’m about to put it to you and I’m sorry about that. That, and the way that was raised with me, just led to a sense of unease that that, him phoning, or these phone calls – whether they were from him or his lawyer – had stirred something, kind of poked a hornets’ nest.

    “I didn’t have knowledge of specific complaints, but I, it wasn’t something I thought about every day, it wasn’t something I lay awake at night at that point worrying about. But I had a lingering suspicion that there just might be something in the ether, in the undergrowth that might surface.”

    She also said that her recollection of her meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 2018 was “not as vivid as I wish it was”.

    But she said that while she had “a general awareness” or a “suspicion” of a complaint about her predecessor, she did not have “knowledge” of it until April 2 when Mr Salmond showed her a letter he’d received from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans informing him of the complaints against him.

    She said: “Ahead of April 2, I had an awareness there was a complaint, no doubt I had suspicions of what the nature of what that might be, but that’s what it was: a general awareness, a suspicion that no doubt I had all sorts of theories for in my head.

    “But it was reading the Permanent Secretary’s letter that he showed me on April 2 that gave me the knowledge and the detail behind that knowledge of all the things I have spoken about.”

  • Justin Bowie

    NEW TWIST

    ALEX Salmond has lodged a formal complaint over claims a complainant's name was disclosed by a government official to his chief of staff.

    The ex-FM has lodged an official complaint with Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans over the alleged disclosure in the middle of Nicola Sturgeon's evidence to an inquiry into the botched handling of harassment claims.

    A spokesperson for the ex-FM said: ‘’Mr Salmond has lodged a formal complaint with the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government under the civil service code, on the conduct of the official who is alleged to have breached civil service rules, by disclosing the name of a complainant in the Scottish Government process.”

    Read more HERE

  • Justin Bowie

    FIRST WORDS

    This is Nicola Sturgeon's opening speech to the Scottish Parliament as she began giving evidence at the Salmond inquiry.

    The First Minister is attending the Holyrood probe into the Scottish Government's botched harassment investigation.

  • Justin Bowie

    'ABSURD'

    NICOLA Sturgeon says her old boss Alex Salmond "was a tough guy to work for" but blasted "absurd" claims she was out to "get" him.

    The under fire First Minister, who is fighting for her political career, told MSPs she was "sorry" to two women who were failed by the process but attacked her former mentor saying he hadn't uttered a "single word of regret" during his six-hour testimony.

    Ms Sturgeon stood by her claim that the first time she learned of allegations against Mr Salmond was at a meeting with him on April 2, 2018.

    And she insisted she never heard claims of "sexually inappropriate behaviour" about Alex Salmond prior to November 2017, when Sky News made a media query about a historic alleged incident at Edinburgh Airport.

    The FM said her government’s complaints policy was “absolutely, emphatically not” created to target Alex Salmond.

    Read more HERE

  • Justin Bowie

    'NOT ACCURATE'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said she does not believe claims the name of a complainant was given to Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff by a senior Scottish Government official during the investigation are “accurate”.

    The First Minister said the government official has been “clear” that did not happen, despite two witnesses backing up the allegation that Mr Salmond’s ex-aide Geoff Aberdein was told the name of one of the women in early March 2018.

    Ms Sturgeon said that when she met Mr Salmond on April 2 that year, he knew the name of one of the complainants because he “knew about the incident”.

    She said: “I was not at the meeting that has been described (in March 2018), neither should I say, were people who are seeking to attest to the content of that meeting."

    Read more HERE

  • Justin Bowie

    'WATERSHED MOMENT'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said the #MeToo movement which sparked her new former ministers harassment policy was a "watershed moment".

    Looking back to late 2017, she told MSPs: "I remember the #MeToo stuff being quite shocking – not in the sense that you hadn't known this kind of stuff happened.

    "But the fact that it was coming out into the open that people were prepared to confront these things was a big moment."

    Describing it as a "watershed" event, the First Minister added: "There was a sense that we had to live up to that – we had to be prepared to meet the moment now.

    "Three years on, some people think that was all an overreaction. I don't, I think it was right to try to do that.

    "I regret the fact that, because certain things were done the way they should have been done, we're sitting here."

  • Justin Bowie

    'NOT THE TARGET'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said her government’s complaints policy was “absolutely, emphatically not” created to target Alex Salmond.

    Under questioning from SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, the First Minister said: “Alex Salmond has been…one of the closest people to me in my entire life.

    “I would never have wanted to ‘get’ Alex Salmond. And I would never, ever have wanted any of this to happen.

    “If I could have, short of brushing complaints under the carpet which would have been wrong, if I could turn the clock back and find legitimate ways that none of this would ever have happened then I would.

    “Alex Salmond has been, for most of my life – since I was about 20/21 years old – not just a very close political colleague, a friend, in my younger days somebody I looked up to and revered.

    “I had no motive, intention, desire, to ‘get’ Alex Salmond.”

  • Justin Bowie

    INQUIRY CLAIMS

    NICOLA Sturgeon claimed Alex Salmond has a “tendency” to think most things are “about him” – but insisted the government’s complaints procedure wasn’t put in place because of him.

    The First Minister said “one of the suggestions that’s been made” is that the harassment policy drawn up in late 2017 was a “bespoke Alex Salmond policy”.

    But she said: “Even in the days when we were besties, Alex Salmond has a tendency to see most things being in some way about him and I hope he takes that in the spirit it’s intended.

    “But it wasn’t. And I think to see it in that way really ignores what was happening globally at that time. This was about the #MeToo revelations.”

    Ms Sturgeon said a media inquiry from Sky News in November 2017 about Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour towards staff at Edinburgh Airport did not influence the drafting of the policy.

    She said: “The policy was not put in place because of Alex Salmond, but nor did I allow any – even subconscious I hope – considerations about Alex Salmond to influence the decisions I took on that.”

  • Justin Bowie

    'TOUGH TO WORK FOR'

    NICOLA Sturgeon told MSPs her old boss Alex Salmond "was a tough guy to work for".

    The First Minister acknowledged lots of people are like that, but said she had on occasion stood up to him if she thought he was "crossing a line".

    She stressed she was not referring to any alleged sexual behaviour.

    But, in general, she told the inquiry: "He was a tough guy to work for, and very challenging to work for. If Alec was displeased with you, and he would make that pretty obvious.

    "And there were times when I did challenge his behaviour in that respect when I witnessed situations where I thought he had or was perhaps risking crossing a line."

    She said she has thought about if senior Nats who worked with Mr Salmond for decades had become "inured" to certain behaviour compared to civil servants when the SNP entered government in 2007.

  • Justin Bowie

    'OBSTRUCTION' CLAIMS

    NICOLA Sturgeon rejected allegations from committee deputy convenor Margaret Mitchell that it had “faced delay, obstruction, obfuscation” from the Scottish Government when obtaining evidence.

    The First Minister said “substantial amounts of evidence” had been made available.

    She said: "I would not accept the characterisation. The Government has made available substantial amounts of written and oral evidence.

    “I am not aware of what you are referring to (which) you feel we have not handed over."

    She added: "There is no intention on the part of the Government to withhold relevant information from this committee."

  • Justin Bowie

    INQUIRY HEARING

    NICOLA Sturgeon said that today’s Alex Salmond inquiry hearing is about her actions.

    The First Minister insisted she acted “properly and appropriately” – and added that she made the “best judgments” possible.

    Ms Sturgeon: "In one of the most invidious political and personal situations I have ever faced, I believed I acted properly and appropriately and that overall I made the best judgments I could.

    "For anyone willing to listen with an open mind, that is what I will seek to demonstrate today."

  • Justin Bowie

    'NOT AWARE'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted she never heard claims of "sexually inappropriate behaviour" about Alex Salmond prior to November 2017, when Sky News made a media query about a historic alleged incident at Edinburgh Airport.

    In Mr Salmond's government, Ms Sturgeon served as deputy which meant she was the arbiter of complaints against ministers under the Fairness at Work policy which then dealt with such accusations.

    In November 2017 in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Scottish officials were tasked with rapidly drafting a new process for complaints against current and former ministers.

    Mr Salmond believes this procedure – which he successfully sued the government over in 2019 – was designed to process complaints specifically against him, with woman having already lodged claims against him prior to the policy getting signed off.

    The First Minister told the Holyrood inquiry: "I was not aware of allegations or concerns about sexually inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond."

  • Justin Bowie

    'MADE MISTAKES'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has acknowledged her government made mistakes in the Alex Salmond saga but denied her government had tried to hide anything.

    Referring to material from the trial and files which could breach complainers' identities, the First Minister told MSPs: "Obviously there is material that is restricted in terms of what can be published."

    But she insisted she shares in the "frustration" the committee has felt about delayed and redacted evidence – in many cases censored by her own government – and claimed: "There's no intention on the part of the government to withhold relevant information from this committee.

    Ms Sturgeon said: "I have waited a long, long time to be sitting here myself while allegations and claims have been swirling around about me, without me having the ability to address them.

    "And as information that has been claimed was devastating to the government's position and proved all sorts of things has come to light – and including information that this committee has seen – it has proved to be nothing of the sort."

    She added: "I want as much of this to be known out there and public because the government made mistakes, and we'll come on to those, but there's nothing here that the government has to hide."

  • Justin Bowie

    'NOT A SINGLE WORD OF REGRET'

    NICOLA Sturgeon said Alex Salmond showed “not a single word of regret” for his behaviour that “was not always appropriate” during his six-hour testimony to the committee on Friday.

    The First Minister said that while Mr Salmond told of his “nightmare” since complaints were made against him, he didn’t appear to “acknowledge” the hurt felt by others.

    She said: “Alex spoke on Friday about what a nightmare the last couple of years have been for him – and I don’t doubt that. I have thought often about the impact on him. He was someone I cared about for a long time.

    “And maybe that’s why on Friday I found myself searching for any sign, any sign at all, that he recognised how difficult this has been for others too. First and foremost for women who believed his behaviour towards them was inappropriate.

    “But also for those of us who have campaigned with, worked with him, cared for him and considered him a friend, and who now stand unfairly accused of plotting against him.

    “That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question. But I know just from what he told me that his behaviour was not always appropriate.

    “And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even simple acknowledgement of that. I can only hope that in private the reality might be different.”

  • Justin Bowie

    'ABSURD SUGGESTION'

    NICOLA Sturgeon hit back at the “absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond”.

    She said: “A number of women made serious complaints about Alex Salmond’s behaviour.

    “The government – despite the mistake it undoubtedly made – tried to do the right thing.

    “As First Minister I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connection to get what he wants.”

  • Justin Bowie

    STURGEON STANDS BY CLAIM

    NICOLA Sturgeon has said she stands by her claim that she first learned of allegations against Alex Salmond at a meeting with him on April 2, 2018.

    The First Minister told the Holyrood inquiry that in a previous meeting with Mr Salmond's ex-chief of staff Geoff Aberdein in March 29, the complaints had only been discussed "in general terms".

    She said at that meeting, four days earlier, she noted "how worried Geoff seemed to be with Alex's welfare and state of mind" and claimed Mr Aberdein said Mr Salmond was considering resigning from the SNP.

    Then, at her home on April 2, Mr Salmond was "insistent" on meeting her in private at first, Ms Sturgeon said, to show her a letter summarising the claims against him.

    The First Minister told MSPs: "Reading this letter is a moment in my life that I will never forget."

    She added: "What he described constituted, in my view, deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part, perhaps another reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind."

    But it comes after two witnesses backed up Mr Salmond's account that the March 29 meet was for the "express purpose" of setting up the April 2 summit, where they said all attending knew what it was about.

  • Justin Bowie

    'SERIOUS MISTAKE'

    NICOLA Sturgeon apologised for a “very serious mistake” made during her government’s probe into harassment allegations about Alex Salmond.

    In her opening remarks to the committee, she said the complaints process used was drawn up in late 2017 in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and that she signed it off.

    Ms Sturgeon said it was “absolutely right” the complaints about Mr Salmond were taken seriously, saying: “An individual’s profile, status or connections should not result in complaints of this nature being ignored or swept under the carpet.”

    But she said she “deeply regrets” that “two women were failed and taxpayers’ money was lost” as a result of the flawed investigation.

    She added: “Although I was not aware of the error at the time, I am the head of the government and so I want to take this opportunity to say sorry to the two women involved and to the wider public.”

  • Justin Bowie

    'SORRY'

    NICOLA Sturgeon has apologised to two women who she claimed were “failed” during investigations into Alex Salmond.

    The First Minister said sorry to the women as she gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament this morning.

    Ms Sturgeon said: “As a result of a mistake that was made, two women were failed and taxpayers money was lost. I deeply regret that.

    “Although I was not aware of the error at the time, I am the head of the Scottish Government, and so I want to take this opportunity to say sorry to the two women involved and to the wider public.

    “I also accept without any reservation that my actions deserve to be scrutinised.”

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