Nicola Sturgeon misled Holyrood, committee investigating Salmond saga finds

Nicola Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the ministerial code on Monday. Credit: PA

Nicola Sturgeon misled a Scottish Parliament committee, an investigation into the handling of the allegations of harassment against Alex Salmond has concluded.

The findings are separate from those of James Hamilton QC, who reported on Monday there had been no breach of the ministerial code over the First Minister's role in the saga.

Members probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Mr Salmond have said they “find it hard to believe” that Ms Sturgeon had “no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond prior to November 2017”.

The inquiry into Alex Salmond was ruled unlawful. Credit: PA

In a new report published on Tuesday, the Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints stated: “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.”

Committee members have held 14 public evidence sessions, questioning a range of witnesses about the development of the complaints policy that was used unlawfully, the handling of the allegations, Mr Salmond’s successful judicial review and the ministerial code.

The four SNP committee members did not agree with the finding that she misled the committee.

What did we learn from the report?

  • The authors of the report said they found it hard to believe Ms Sturgeon did not know about the accusations against Mr Salmond prior to November 2017.

  • They said the Scottish government failed to provide them with key documents which hindered their work.

  • The authors said they believed the main reason the Scottish government's inquiry into Mr Salmond failed was because of their "failure to identify all the relevant documents at the outset of the judicial review."

  • The committee said they were concerned with the First Minister's decision to continue with the investigation into Mr Salmond despite warnings it would fail.

  • They concluded that the Scottish 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 brought by Alex Salmond.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who was a member of the committee, said they had unanimously agreed that the Scottish Government was responsible for “serious and catastrophic failings”.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond were previously close colleagues Credit: PA

He told the BBC: “The sad story of this whole committee inquiry – and it’s reflected in the report that’s just been published – is that we faced obstruction, evasion, deceit and lies from far too many of the people who gave us evidence or didn’t give us evidence.”

The First Minister was questioned for almost seven hours about her role in the botched investigation, as well as her predecessor Mr Salmond who used his appearance to accuse the First Minister of multiple breaches of the ministerial code and argue there was a “malicious” plot to remove him from public life.

The Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints also said it was “concerned” that Nicola Sturgeon did not disclose details of her meeting with Alex Salmond to the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, until June 6 – more than two months after the meeting at the First Minister’s home.

Speaking to the BBC Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I accept the conclusion of the report, that was agreed unanimously, which agreed that the best place to address if the First Minister had breached the Ministerial Code rests with James Hamilton, and he reported yesterday and cleared the First Minister of any wrongdoing.”

He said the SNP would look at the recommendations in the report.

Speaking on Monday Ms Sturgeon said ahead of the publication she believed some members of the committee: "Decided before a single word of evidence had been taken that I was guilty of something and nothing was going to remove them from that view.”

The Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints published its report less than 24 hours after a separate report by James Hamilton, the independent adviser on the Scottish Ministerial Code, concluded that Nicola Sturgeon had not breached its provisions.

The committee said Mr Hamilton’s work had been “completely separate from the work of our inquiry”.

But the MSPs’ report said: “It remains the case that the Ministerial Code is also in our remit. We have conducted our own evidence taking on this subject.

“We consider it important that we report to the Parliament on the Ministerial Code in order to fulfil our remit.”A motion of no confidence, tabled by the Scottish Conservatives, is due to be debated and voted upon on Tuesday afternoon.