Alex Salmond inquiry LIVE: Ex-FM claims Nicola Sturgeon KNEW about complaints against him before their meeting

ALEX Salmond claims Nicola Sturgeon KNEW about complaints against him before their meeting on April 2, 2018.

The former First Minister is currently giving evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee probing the government's botched investigation into harassment claims about him in 2018.

Mr Salmond has also accused the Scottish Government of an "obstruction of justice" over a failure to hand over key documents to prosecutors.

He branded the censoring of his written evidence "intolerable" – and says it would not have happened at Westminster.

The former SNP chief is laying out his evidence in person and attempting to persuade the committee – and the nation – that there was a plot against him.

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to give evidence at the Holyrood inquiry next Wednesday in the final evidence session of the inquiry before it finishes its report.

The inquiry started at 12:30pm this afternoon from Holyrood – you can watch it live in the video above orhere.

All of the background details you need to know can be found here.

Keep up with latest news from the inquiry here.

  • Ewan Mowat

    NICOLA Sturgeon knew about her government’s investigation into Alex Salmond four days before she held a private meeting with him at her home, the former First Minister said.

    Alex Salmond told MSPs that his ex-chief of staff Geoff Aberdein arranged a meeting with Ms Sturgeon on March 29, 2018, “to brief Nicola on what was happening” and to set up further talks between her and Mr Salmond on April 2 at her home in Glasgow.

    Lib Dem committee member Alex Cole Hamilton asked: “It was your understanding that the First Minister already knew about the complaints and the investigation – or was Mr Aberdein breaking that news to her on March 29?”

    Mr Salmond said: “I know that Nicola Sturgeon knew about the complaints process at the meeting on March 29 because I was told so by Geoff Aberdein, who told her at the meeting arranged for that purpose.

    “Whether she had any prior knowledge of it I cannot say. But I know that she knew on March 29.”

    He added: “My position is the meeting of April 2 was arranged on March 29. And I know this because Geoff Aberdein phoned me on March 28, the day before the meeting, to tell me it was going to take place.

    "And he phoned me the day after the meeting to tell me the meeting had been arranged for April 2, which I think was Easter Monday, in Glasgow.”

    Mr Salmond also rubbished a claim by SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – Ms Sturgeon’s husband – who said it wasn’t unusual for the former First Minister to “pop in for a chat” at their home.

    He said: “I heard Mr Murrell saying several times I was regularly popping in – can I just point out I stay 200 miles away from Glasgow and, as far as I can remember, I’ve been to Nicola and Peter’s home six times in my life – maybe slightly more, but it’s not a question of just popping in.

    “Even when my relationship with the First Minister was extremely good, I didn’t pop in because she stayed in Glasgow and I stayed in Aberdeenshire, and that was an arranged meeting.”

    Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly told parliament she first learned of her government’s investigation at the April 2 meeting at her home.

    However in written evidence to the committee, she said she “forgot” an earlier meeting on March 29 with Mr Aberdein where he mentioned “allegations of a sexual nature” about her predecessor.

  • Ewan Mowat

    POLICE did not need help from "Inspector Murrell" to investigate complaints against Alex Salmond, the former First Minister has said – referring to Nicola Sturgeon's husband and SNP boss Peter Murrell.

    In astonishing claims under oath to the Holyrood inquiry, Mr Salmond accused senior Nats of piling pressure on witnesses to testify against him.

    His written evidence claims SNP chief exec Peter Murrell and others were behind a plot to drum up complaints against him for the police.

    He recounted "one of the most extraordinary days of [his] life" when he went through messages on a memory stick given to his legal team by the Crown Office ahead of his trial last year.

    He said he is not allowed to describe the messages in detail – although one leaked text reveals Nats supremo Mr Murrell saying it's "a good time to be pressurising" police.

    Mr Murrell has said he expressed himself poorly in the text but that it did not indicate a conspiracy against Mr Salmond.

    But Mr Salmond said the messages he has seen "speak to behaviour which I would never have countenanced from people I've known in some cases for 30 years".

    Answering Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell at the committee hearing, he said: "In my opinion, there has been behaviour which is about not just pressurising the police, like the one you've read out, but pressurising witnesses, collusion with witnesses.

    "We're talking about the construction of evidence because the police somehow were felt to be inadequate in finding it themselves.

    "And the point about this is that on August 25, 2018, I think it was, a police investigation started.

    "When a police investigation starts, these matters are for the police – they have the investigatory function."

    Referring to top SNP and government officials he believes were involved in a plot against him, he added: "They don't need assistance from Inspector Murrell, or Sergeant Ruddick [Sue Ruddick, SNP chief operating officer], Constable McCann [Ian McCann, SNP compliance officer], or Special Constable Allison [Barbara Allison, government director of communications]."

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond accused the Scottish Government of an “obstruction of justice” for failing to hand over key information to prosecutors.

    The former First Minister said a document detailing prior contact civil service boss Leslie Evans had with the two complainants during the government’s internal probe was not given to prosecutors despite a search warrant being issued.

    He said: “It’s not a duty of candour, that’s refusing to produce information in the face of a search warrant – it’s obstruction of justice and there are consequences for such things.”

    Labour committee member Jackie Baillie asked Mr Salmond if he believed Ms Evans – the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary – had “discharged her responsibilities in line with the civil service code”.

    He replied: “No.”

    Ms Baillie said that the investigating officer in the government’s probe into Mr Salmond was interviewed by junior counsel on October 17, 2018, during which she was “open about her contact with the complainants”.

    Legal counsel then gave a written opinion on October 31, before a meeting was held between counsel, Nicola Sturgeon, Ms Evans and the First Minister’s chief of staff on November 13.

    The government didn’t concede defeat in the judicial review until January the following year.

    Mr Baillie said: “As a former First Minister, would carrying on legal action in the Court of Session knowing that you had acted unlawfully be a breach of the ministerial code?”

    Mr Salmond said: “Yes.”

    Ms Baillie then asked: “Do you believe this was the case in this instance?

    The ex-Nats chief said: “Well we cannot be sure because I – like you – haven’t seen the external legal advice of October 2018.

    “Clearly it was, as I think was said to you in evidence, a highly significant moment when it was realised by counsel that there had been prior contact [between the investigating officer and the complainants].

    “Everything about it suggests, even how it’s been described in terms, is on the balance of probability, that the advice showed or indicated that the government were about to lose.

    “If that is the case and if that legal advice says that and the case was continued in the knowledge of the First Minister against that legal advice then that would be a breach of the ministerial code.

    “If we could just see the document then we’d all be better informed.”

    Ms Baillie said: “Well indeed this parliament has asked twice, we’ve still not seen it, so good luck with that one.”

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond says he has proof that the "hope" of a special adviser to the government was that disastrous civil court battle with the ex-FM would be "overtaken" by criminal proceedings against him.

    He said he would seek permission from a witness to provide the Holyrood inquiry with a statement which claims a government adviser told this person they knew would lose the civil case but would "get him" in the criminal case.

    Mr Salmond has suggested the government's refusal to turn over legal advice from the period might be because they were asking lawyers if the judicial review process could be "sisted" or paused if the police charged him.

    This witness statement "demonstrates that in November of 2018, the hope was on the part of that special adviser and others that the judicial review would be overtaken by the criminal case", he told MSPs.

    The former First Minister said Nicola Sturgeon's government knew, potentially as early as October 2018, three months before it conceded the civil case, that its handling of harassment complaints had been unlawful.

    Mr Salmond said: "I can think of no other reason that you would postpone taking a decision on a case that you knew on the balance of probability you are highly likely to lose, unless you thought there was going to be something else happening that avoided it."

    He added: "Conceding in October would be embarrassing, it would be difficult, but it wouldn't be as cataclysmic as an open court case in January."

    The ex-FM told MSPs: "Let's be frank here, if I'd been convicted of anything, anything at all, then this inquiry would have been moot and nobody would have cared about the civil case or the judicial review or anything like that. This inquiry wouldn't be sitting."

  • Ewan Mowat

    THE third session of the committee has now re-convened.

  • Ewan Mowat

    THE second session of the committee has been suspended for a short break.

    Alex Salmond, seen coughing often while answering questions, asked to be relieved due to discomfort from a "small chest infection".

    The inquiry will resume shortly.

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond told how it was his own legal team that pushed for an anonymity order to be put in place for the complainants – at which the Scottish Government “didn’t turn up”.

    The former First Minister was responding to a question from SNP MSP Alasdair Allan about why he was “surprised” by the Crown Office’s intervention this week, which led to parliament redacting parts of his written evidence.

    He said: “I resent the idea that anything in my evidence – legalled by my lawyers and legal team with the intent that we had – would ever transgress on the order from Lady Dorrian.

    “On October 4, 2018, in front of Lord Pentland, my legal team moved an order to protect the anonymity of the two complainants in the civil case, in the Scottish Government.

    “The Scottish Government didn’t turn up. They weren’t even represented at that hearing.

    “So when I hear some people say that this is all about protecting anonymity of a complainant…when I know the Scottish Government didn’t turn up in the civil case on October 4, 2018, then you should allow me an element of surprise and an element of disquiet that an argument is being used for totally different reasons.”

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond was told early on by his lawyers he had a "very high probability of success" in his civil case against the Scottish Government, he said.

    He informed MSPs he received this legal advice even before it emerged the investigating officer in the harassment complaints probe against had prior contact with the two accusers – the detail which collapsed the government's case.

    Its investigation of Mr Salmond was ruled unlawful, "procedurally unfair" and "tainted by apparent bias" by the Court of Session in 2019.

    But the ex-First Minister told the Holyrood inquiry he did not immediately take legal action against the government he once led because of "all the possible political implications".

    Mr Salmond said: "My counsel was suggesting that a decision should be made to take action and I was reluctant because I was the former First Minister."

    But he blasted the government's initial decision to fight the judicial review case Mr Salmond brought, saying: "In terms of the Richter scale of mistakes, this is right up there."

    And he said it "must be unprecedented" to have external counsel to the government threaten to resign if it did not concede the case, as happened in late 2018.

    The former First Minister added: "Somebody has to accept responsibility for a calamitous occurrence, a defeat."

    Mr Salmond won more than £500,000 in legal costs, an amount he said was uncommonly high and was partly a result of having to drag the government through a separate legal process to get them to give up key documents they denied existed.

    He said: "The government's own pleadings to the court were wrong, inaccurate, misleading."

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond accused the Scottish Government of a “deliberate suppression of information inconvenient" to it throughout the judicial review, criminal trial and committee processes.

    Mr Salmond said civil service boss Leslie Evans – the “deciding officer” in the government’s investigation – met with one of the complainants and phoned the other one “in mid process” before he was informed there were complaints against him.

    He said: “If it’s a very bad thing for an investigating officer to have prior involvement, it’s a really difficult thing legally for a deciding officer to have during involvement in the middle of a process in terms of perceived bias.”

    The former First Minister said neither he or his legal team knew about the Permanent Secretary’s contact with the complainers until it was disclosed in a letter to the committee.

    He said: “It wasn’t disclosed across the judicial review, despite the duty of candour which was explained to the government by their own counsel and by Lord Pentland.

    “And it wasn’t even disclosed in the criminal process where I know – and I’m not going to stray into it – but there was a specific search warrant applied on the government a year past October/November which specifically asked for contact between the Permanent Secretary and complainants.

    “And that contact wasn’t disclosed even to a search warrant by the Crown Office.

    “I know this committee has been hugely frustrated by a lack of information, but you can see that the pattern of non-disclosure goes right through the judicial review, right through the criminal case, and right into this committee.

    “It’s not an odd document that’s been missed out. It is a sequence of deliberate suppression of information inconvenient to the government."

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond said the censoring of his written evidence to Holyrood is "intolerable" and would never have happened in the Westminster parliament.

    The Crown Office intervened earlier this week – after the former First Minister's testimony had already been been published – to get swathes of it redacted.

    This is the submission by Mr Salmond which accuses Nicola Sturgeon of repeatedly lying to parliament and breaching the ministerial code over meetings in 2018.

    Tory committee member Murdo Fraser asked if Mr Salmond had ever heard of such a thing happening in his long years as an MP, and he said: "No, it is intolerable."

    The ex-Nats boss continued: "Before I came to the committee, and the convener kindly allowed me to read a statement into the record, I received a letter of what I was and wasn’t allowed to talk about.

    "And according to that letter I’m not allowed to talk about areas of my written evidence that were submitted in good faith to this committee – which are easily available online in reputable journals for anybody to see, which are a wide part of political debate, and are accepted as that.

    "The idea that the only place that can’t be discussed is in a parliamentary committee is the direct opposite of what should be true.

    "Parliamentary committees should actually be able to discuss things that cannot be discussed elsewhere because of proper exercise of parliamentary privilege and the duties of members of parliament.

    "Therefore it seems to be an extraordinary position and clearly something is wrong. Whether it’s institutional…or whether it’s personnel as I suggest, is a matter for the parliament to decide.

    "But clearly it is an intolerable situation and should not be allowed to continue."

  • Ewan Mowat
    Ex-FM Alex Salmond is back answering questions as the second session is underway
  • Ewan Mowat

    THE Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has resumed.

    The second session, with former First Minister Alex Salmond, is now underway.

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond has insisted the name of a complainer WAS shared with his former chief of staff – despite denials by Nicola Sturgeon

  • Ewan Mowat

    THE inquiry has been suspended for a 20-minute break after the first session was concluded.

    More to follow after the short respite.

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond has insisted the name of a complainer WAS shared with his former chief of staff when the complaints process was still ongoing, despite denials yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon.

    Asked by Scottish Labour acting leader Jackie Baillie if it was true a woman's identity had been revealed, he said: "Yes."

    This is alleged to have happened in meetings held prior to Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon's summit on April 2, 2018, at her home.

    Ms Baillie said: "Can I ask you how you know that, because obviously we're interested in evidence being corroborated at this committee?"

    Mr Salmond answered: "Because my former chief of staff told me that."

    The Labour MSP followed up: "Is anybody else party to that information?"

    He replied: "As far as I'm aware – and you'd have to ask the people concerned – as far as I'm aware there are three other people who know that to be true."

    Ms Baillie said the committee has written to the people involved.

    At First Minister's Questions yesterday, Ms Sturgeon dismissed Ms Baillie's claim the name of a complainer was revealed.

    The First Minister said: "Alex Salmond claims the name of a complainant was given. That is not the same thing as accepting that is the case."

    Pressed by Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie if she was "categorically" denying it, Ms Sturgeon answered: "To the very best of my knowledge, I do not think that happened."

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond described the Scottish Government’s investigation into him – which he successfully challenged at the Court of Session – as an “abject, total, complete disaster”.

    In January 2019, the Court of Session ruled the government’s probe into complaints about Mr Salmond was “unlawful” and “unfair” in that it was “tainted by apparent bias” after an investigating officer was appointed who’d had previous contact with the complainants.

    It led to over £500,000 of taxpayers’ money being used to cover Mr Salmond’s legal expenses.

    Mr Salmond told the committee: “When I took out the petition for judicial review it was on, I can’t remember, seven or eight grounds.

    “My legal advice – and legal advice is just that, it’s only advice – is that we had a very, very high likelihood of success before we knew about anything to do with the application of the policy which was initially concealed from us and then which we learned about as the judicial review went on.

    “I wouldn’t have taken out a judicial review without the advice saying the policy was unlawful.

    “And I think there was a great deal of understanding in terms of the Scottish Government of the jeopardy that their policy was in.

    “There were many, many things wrong with the policy. Why were there many things wrong with the policy? Because it was developed at pace as the civil service says, spatchcock as I would say, over a period of six weeks in an apparent panic for reasons which hopefully this committee can try and determine.

    “However you look at it , from nobody’s point of view was it a satisfactory outcome.

    “It was an abject, total, complete disaster.”

  • Ewan Mowat

    ALEX Salmond has said he did not threaten to resign from the SNP when he discussed historic claims made against him with Nicola Sturgeon in November 2017.

    Under questioning from Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton about an alleged incident at Edinburgh Airport in 2009, Mr Salmond said: "No, I didn't threaten resignation – there was nothing to threaten resignation about."

    Ms Sturgeon has claimed that at a meeting she held later with Mr Salmond which discussed the government's harassment probe against him, she had feared he might resign from the SNP.

    The First Minister insists she thought that meeting was party business, not government business, which is why it wasn't minuted, nor civil servants informed.

    But Mr Salmond also defended his predecessor from any suggestion she covered up his behaviour or anyone else's when she was his deputy FM – in which role she dealt with workplace complaints against ministers.

    He told the committee: "I've got points to make about what I believe the current First Minister has done or not done and they'll be made in response to relevant questions to the committee.

    "But I've seen it pursued on the committee that somehow Nicola Sturgeon was covering up – that's not not the case. My charges against Nicola Sturgeon don't include that."

    The ex-FM said that to his knowledge, during his time in charge, no complaints against any ministers came across his then-deputy Ms Sturgeon's desk.

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