Sturgeon ‘knew earlier about Salmond claims’
First Minister urged to reveal what she knew
Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to admit how much she knew about the allegations of misconduct against former First Minister Alex Salmond.
She was warned about the claims in November 2017, five months earlier than she has previously stated, according to Scotland’s most senior civil servant.
Leslie Evans, permanent secretary to the Scottish government, told a parliamentary inquiry that she alerted Ms Sturgeon to a Sky News investigation into an alleged incident involving Mr Salmond at Edinburgh airport in 2007.
This appeared to contradict the First Minister’s earlier claim that the first she knew about the allegations was in April 2018.
Leslie Evans: concerns
Ms Evans said a number of people within the Scottish government had raised concerns about alleged sexual misconduct involving ministers and former ministers.
These emerged at the height of the #MeToo movement surrounding the film producer Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood which later spread to Westminster and Holyrood.
Her evidence was heard at the opening of a parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of the allegations against Mr Salmond who was later charged and in March acquitted of a number of sexual offences.
He had already successfully sued the government over its handling of the allegations in August 2018 after they were leaked to the media.
The government’s handling of the inquiry was judged unlawful and it admitted it had the “appearance of bias” because the official in charge had involved two of the complainants before they made formal complaints. The government subsequently paid Mr Salmond £512,000 to cover his legal expenses.
He is due to give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry this autumn.
Ms Evans told the inquiry: “I was made aware of contact that had taken place between Mr Salmond and certain Scottish Government members of staff in very early November.
“He had contacted them because he wanted to talk to them about a piece of media work which was going on, which was being undertaken by Sky News.
“I was told by two different sources, one of them extremely concerned, that they had received this contact and they were a bit bewildered and unhappy about it.
“I didn’t know what was said, I didn’t ask, I didn’t think it was appropriate to know.
“I mentioned that Mr Salmond had been in touch with staff about an Edinburgh Airport incident that Sky News were investigating, I did mention that to the First Minister.
“I told her about that, I said I was concerned mostly because the staff were anxious about it. I was also concerned it could become a story.”
Ms Evans was asked about the decisions to make the complaints process retrospective, which allowed the inclusion of allegations against former ministers, including Mr Salmond who was no longer in office.
Asked by Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole Hamilton if the new sexual harassment system was “targeted and designed to get Alex Salmond”, Ms Evans replied: “No, absolutely not.”
She declined to comment on allegations that women were advised not to be alone with Mr Salmond.
Tory committee member Murdo Fraser said: “That Ms Evans told Nicola Sturgeon about Alex Salmond’s contact ‘in case it became a story’ is a stunning revelation that tells you all you need to know about a government that is rotten at its core.
“We now know that Nicola Sturgeon was aware of Alex Salmond contacting Scottish Government staff in November 2017.”
Ms Evans confirmed that one of the complainants had been shown the draft sexual harassment code before it became policy, and before she had made an official complaint. She said this was normal practice.
The inquiry continues next week.