Harassment complaints procedure ‘not designed to get Alex Salmond’

Including former Scottish Government ministers in a harassment complaints procedure was “absolutely not” designed to target Alex Salmond, Scotland’s most senior civil servant has said.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she told Nicola Sturgeon concerns had been raised about the former first minister two months before a formal investigation – which was later ruled unlawful – was started by the Scottish Government.

Giving evidence under oath at Holyrood, Ms Evans rejected the idea a complaints procedure introduced in 2018 was “designed to get Alex Salmond” when asked by Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints member Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

The Liberal Democrat MSP said: “Was this targeted policy, which only applied to harassment complaints against former ministers, engineered to fit any complaint that been arrived at through the Scottish Government?

“Was this designed to get Alex Salmond?”

She replied: “No, absolutely not.”

The policy covers allegations of harassment against ministers and former ministers, Ms Evans said, adding no Scottish Government minister was involved in developing it.

Ms Evans said she told Ms Sturgeon the media were investigating the former first minister’s alleged sexual misconduct towards Edinburgh Airport staff in “very early November” 2017.

Two “bewildered and unhappy” Scottish Government staff had been contacted by Mr Salmond about the Sky News investigation into his behaviour at the airport in 2008, Ms Evans disclosed.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

Asked by Mr Cole-Hamilton if she had informed the First Minister after officials were notified of a complaint against Mr Salmond, Ms Evans said: “A concern was raised by a whole range of people in November 2017.”

She added: “I was told by two different sources, one of them extremely concerned, that they had received this contact (from Mr Salmond) 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.”

Ms Evans added: “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.”

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

The Scottish Government launched its formal investigation into other allegations from civil servants about Mr Salmond two months later, in January 2018.

During the hearing, MSPs were stopped from asking about claims that female civil servants were warned not to be alone with the former first minister, after being told it was not within the inquiry’s remit.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault at the High court in Edinburgh in March.

A witness in the trial claimed he was banned from working along with female civil servants at his official residence Bute House.

Asked about the claim, Ms Evans responded “I can’t comment” before committee convener Linda Fabiani interjected and said: “I’m not sure that question is entirely appropriate.”

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

When challenged by Mr Cole-Hamilton that the inquiry’s remit included “informal steps that were taken”, Ms Fabiani said: “I have made my decision and we will discuss this after in the private session.”

At the start of the evidence session, Ms Fabiani stressed the committee will not look at the criminal proceedings against the former SNP leader “nor reinvestigate or consider the substance of the complaints originally made to the Scottish Government”.

In her opening statement, Ms Evans said investigating harassment complaints against Mr Salmond was the “right thing to do” but apologised unreservedly for a “procedural failure” in the inquiry.

She later revealed the Scottish Government informed Police Scotland of three of the complaints.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh last year ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints against the former first minister was “unlawful”.

Ms Evans said lessons had been learned from the mistake, which resulted in more than £500,000 of public money being paid to cover Mr Salmond’s legal expenses.