Alex Salmond inquiry LIVE: Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence as she denies Scot Gov official leaked complainant's name

NICOLA Sturgeon denied claims the name of a complainant was leaked to Alex Salmond's chief of staff by a Scottish Government official – as she slammed "absurd" claims there was a plot against her old boss.

The First Minister insisted she wasn’t out to “get” Alex Salmond, and added that her new complaints policy was “absolutely, emphatically not” created to target Mr Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon said “sorry” to women failed by a probe into her predecessor and apologised for a “very serious mistake” made during the investigation.

She stood by claims she first learned of allegations against Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018, while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP leader said she never heard claims of "sexually inappropriate behaviour" about her old boss prior to November 2017.

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.

All of the background details you need to know can be found here – and read up with all the news from Friday's hearing in our blog below.

  • 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.”

  • Justin Bowie

    NO PLANS TO QUIT

    DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney revealed Nicola Sturgeon has not discussed resigning with him.

    The Nats education chief said the inquiry should be allowed to take its course after the Tories called for the SNP leader to quit.

    He said: "Let's let the inquiries take their course and lets make judgments in the light of those inquiries."

    He added that UK Home Secretary had not resigned after breaching the code, saying: "That doesn't happen in all circumstances."

  • David Irvine

    FM 'FEUD'

    FORMER prime minister Gordon Brown has said that the feud between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond is "bringing the country down".

    Ms Sturgeon is facing calls from the Scottish Conservatives to resign, after the Scottish Government published legal advice related to the matter on Tuesday evening.

    Asked about his thoughts on Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond, Mr Brown told ITV News: "They're in a feud, they're bringing the country down, it's not really about policy.

    "We're worried about the virus, we're worried about the economic recession, I'm worried about people coming together across the whole of Britain to deal with it, and we've got this feud about who said what when, and on the basis of some very bad behaviour."

    Asked if Ms Sturgeon would have to resign if she is found to have broken the ministerial code of conduct, he said: "If we cannot uphold in public life the highest standards of integrity, and if we cannot trust each other that we will take seriously the vows we make when we go into office, then I think anything goes and it becomes anarchy, and I don't think that's the way forward."

  • David Irvine

    ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

    Why was the committee established?

    The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was set up to look into the Scottish Government investigation of the allegations against the former first minister.

    MSPs have so far taken evidence from civil servants, including repeated sessions from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, trade unions and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – who is Ms Sturgeon's husband – and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

    Mr Salmond himself gave evidence to the inquiry on Friday February 26, when he claimed the Scottish Government hoped his criminal trial would "ride to the rescue" and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a "cataclysmic" civil court defeat.

    Why did Mr Salmond take legal action?

    The former first minister did not feel his treatment by the Scottish Government was fair.

    It was later found that the lead investigator of the complaints had prior contact with some of the female complainers, with Judge Lord Pentland saying the investigation was "tainted with apparent bias".

    How has the inquiry gone so far?

    The committee has repeatedly voiced frustration with how slow the handing over of evidence has been from a number of parties.

    The Scottish Government was accused of obstruction last year, with the committee saying it was "completely frustrated" with the lack of evidence.

    Both the committee and the Scottish Government were at loggerheads over legal advice provided as part of the judicial review process.

    MSPs wanted to know when the Scottish Government was advised it would likely lose the challenge raised by Mr Salmond, but ministers said handing over the advice would breach the ministerial code.

    On two occasions, MSPs voted for the evidence to be released, with a deal eventually being struck in December to disclose the advice only to MSPs on the committee.

    Didn't Mr Salmond face trial on sexual misconduct charges?

    Yes. The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March last year, after being arrested in January 2019.

    What were the issues with Mr Salmond's evidence?

    Mr Salmond and the committee have been wrangling in recent weeks over evidence published by the inquiry.

    Earlier this month the former first minister said he would not appear, after the committee decided not to publish his submission to a separate investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, over fears it may identify some of the complainers in Mr Salmond's criminal trial last year.

    However, an alteration made to a court order by Judge Lady Dorrian meant the evidence could potentially be made public.

    While the committee voted against publication, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) made the decision to publish anyway.

    The evidence, which was released last Monday evening, was online for less than 24 hours before the Crown Office raised concerns with Holyrood about it, asking for redactions to be made.

    In his submission, the former first minister accused some in the Scottish Government and SNP of a "malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland".

    Ms Sturgeon said her predecessor did not have "a shred of evidence" to support his claims.

    Last Tuesday the submission was re-released, with a number of paragraphs relating to the set-up of a meeting between Mr Salmond and his successor redacted.

    Is the committee inquiry the only investigation into the matter? No. Ms Sturgeon is currently under investigation by James Hamilton QC, to establish if she breached the ministerial code.

    Ms Sturgeon referred herself after being accused of misleading Parliament over when she knew of the complaints against Mr Salmond.

    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 that Mr Salmond's former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, had met the First Minister in her Holyrood office four days prior to that, where she was told of the complaints.

    Did the Scottish Government publish legal advice it received over the Salmond case?

    Deputy First Minister John Swinney agreed to hand over legal advice under threat of a no-confidence vote from opposition parties, and the advice was published on Tuesday evening.

    Documents showed that lawyers warned the Scottish Government in September 2018 that there "is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner's case in respect of the ground of challenge based on 'procedural unfairness'".

    On December 6 2018 legal advisers told ministers that in their view the "least worst option" would be to concede the petition.

    Following publication of the legal advice, the Scottish Conservatives called on Ms Sturgeon to resign and said they would submit a vote of no confidence in her.

    A spokesman for the First Minister said on Tuesday evening that to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister's evidence, is "utterly irresponsible".

  • David Irvine

    HOLYROOD ARRIVAL

    NICOLA Sturgeon has arrived at Holyrood ahead of the inquiry this morning.

    The First Minister was seen being driven into the car park before the 9am session.

    Credit: Michael Schofield – The Sun Glasgow
  • David Irvine

    EN ROUTE

    NICOLA Sturgeon has been pictured leaving her home ahead of today's committee session.

    The First Minister will appear at the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government's botched harassment probe.

    The session is set to begin at 9am.

    You can watch along HERE, or keep up to date in our live blog.

    Credit: PA:Press Association
  • Connor Boylan

    STURGEON TO APPEAR TODAY

    Nicola Sturgeon will appear in front of the committee from 9am this morning.

    Join us then as we bring you all the details from the First Minister's evidence to the inquiry.

  • Blair Meikle

    'OFFER MADE'

    ALEX Salmond’s former lawyer today claimed that Nicola Sturgeon told her predecessor she’d “intervene” in her government’s probe into harassment claims against him.

    Advocate and ex-SNP MSP Duncan Hamilton said the offer was made at a controversial meeting between the pair at Ms Sturgeon’s home in Glasgow in April 2018.

    The First Minister has repeatedly told parliament she never sought to intervene in the process.

    And she has claimed that summit was when she first found out about the investigation into her ex-mentor — from Mr Salmond himself.

    But Mr Hamilton claimed in a letter to a Holyrood inquiry that Ms Sturgeon had offered to “assist” the former Nats chief.

    He also insisted she was aware of the Scottish Government’s probe before the meeting.

    READ MORE: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/6763593/alex-salmond-nicola-sturgeon-intervene-government-probe-lawyer/

  • Blair Meikle

    CLAIM GAME

    TWO former SNP bigwigs backed up a claim that a government official told Alex Salmond’s ex chief of staff the name of a woman who complained about him.

    Former MSP Duncan Hamilton – one of Mr Salmond’s lawyers – and former top spin doctor Kevin Pringle both bolstered the account given by Mr Salmond to MSPs on Friday.

    The ex First Minister’s comments came a day after Nicola Sturgeon told parliament the alleged incident did not happen “to the very best of my knowledge”.

    The confidentiality breach was said to have taken place in the run-up to a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at her home in Glasgow on April 2, 2018.

    n a letter to MSPs, advocate Mr Hamilton said he had been “told the name of a complainant” by Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, in “the early part of March 2018”.

    READ MORE: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/6763449/alex-salmond-claim-complainers-name-backed/

  • Blair Meikle

    QUIT CALLS

    NICOLA Sturgeon is facing calls to resign tonight after new legal documents were published showing the Scottish Government WAS warned about its case against Alex Salmond.

    The government has published emails showing it continued a legal fight with Mr Salmond despite its lawyers advising it was likely to lose.

    Deputy First Minister John Swinney agreed to hand over legal advice under threat of a no-confidence vote, and acknowledged "reservations were raised" by government lawyers about the way allegations about Mr Salmond were investigated. 

    The Scottish Government launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister, but it was found to be unlawful. 

    Redacted legal advice published by the Scottish Government tonight showed that lawyers advised them in September 2018 that there "is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner's case in respect of the ground of challenge based on 'procedural unfairness'." 

    READ MORE: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/politics/6762546/nicola-sturgeon-alex-salmond-resign-tories/

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