Permanent secretary ‘may have breached civil service code at Salmond committee’

Leslie Evans may have breached the civil service code when she refused to answer a question from MSPs investigating the handling of harassment allegations against Alex Salmond, the Scottish Tories have said.

Douglas Ross, the party’s new leader, has written to the head of the UK civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, after the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary said she could not comment on claims female staff were “advised not to be alone” with the former first minister.

Linda Fabiani, the convener of the committee conducting the investigation, would not permit any further questioning on the issue on Tuesday after it was raised by Tory MSP Murdo Fraser.

Coronavirus – Tue Aug 18, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Aug 18, 2020

Mr Ross said: “Any reasonable person would accept there are valid questions to be asked about the claims that female civil servants couldn’t work alone with Alex Salmond.

“I have written to the head of the civil service for his input on Leslie Evans’ refusal to answer this question as it could be a breach of the civil service code.”

The inquiry by Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints is taking place after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled last year the Scottish Government’s actions in dealing with the complaints were “unlawful” – with ministers paying out £512,250.

Mr Ross added: “A number of women were let down by unforgivable process failures by the Government and Scottish taxpayers lost more than £500,000 that could have been spent on improving schools and hospitals.

“The Scottish public deserve answers. They won’t get the full truth if civil servants are allowed to evade scrutiny and the Government refuses to release documents.”

Time's up for Nicola Sturgeon: the First Minister must now come clean about what she knew and when.

— Scottish Conservatives (@ScotTories) August 19, 2020

It came as Mr Fraser accused the First Minister of breaking a promise to co-operate fully with the investigation, challenging Nicola Sturgeon to say what she knew and when.

The First Minister previously said her predecessor informed her about the complaints when they met in April 2018.

Ms Evans, giving evidence to the committee under oath, 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.

Mr Fraser submitted an urgent question on the issue at Holyrood, which was not selected by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh.

The Tory MSP said: “Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly promised the Scottish Parliament that her Government would ‘co-operate fully’ with the inquiry and provide any material it requested. She has broken that promise on day one.

“The First Minister must now own up, reveal what she knew and when, and instruct Leslie Evans to do the same.”

He added: “Nicola Sturgeon has pretended so far that she first heard of complaints about Alex Salmond’s behaviour in April 2018. Yesterday’s evidence shows that the First Minister has been hiding something from the Scottish public.

“The Scottish Conservatives will not accept a cover-up. There is no more room under SNP Government carpets for the First Minister to sweep anything else.

“It’s past time she admitted the truth.”