Top civil servant asked to reappear before Salmond inquiry

Scotland’s most senior civil servant has been asked to reappear in front of MSPs investigating the handling of harassment allegations against Alex Salmond.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans faced pressure to appear again after giving evidence at the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints last week.

Scotland’s top law official, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC has also been asked to appear.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC

The inquiry was launched after the former first minister was awarded more than £500,000 when the Scottish Government conceded in a judicial review at the Court of Session that its investigation into the complaints made against him were unlawful.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani wrote to both Ms Evans and the Lord Advocate inviting them to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday September 8.

She said the session will begin with evidence on the development of the complaints handling procedure, followed by an “initial exploratory session” with Government officials on the judicial review to help establish what the Government is “willing and able to share in oral evidence”.

Ms Fabiani said the meeting may also examine the extent to which legal professional privilege has been applied to documents held by the Government; the timing of decisions taken by the Government during the review; the Government’s approach to sharing information during the review to inform the process; and the associated cost.

She added that “given the lack of documentation provided by the Scottish Government” the committee is looking into whether documents relating to the judicial review can be accessed directly from the courts, if required.

In her letter to Ms Evans, the convener said the committee has “identified further areas of questioning it wishes to explore with you in relation to the development of the complaints procedure” since the civil servant last appeared on August 18.

Linda Fabiani MSP
Linda Fabiani MSP

At that meeting, Ms Evans was asked if she was knew whether or not if female civil servants were warned not to be alone with Mr Salmond during his time as first minister.

The claim was made by a witness at Mr Salmond’s trial at the High Court in Edinburgh earlier this year, who gave evidence that the politician was banned from working along with female civil servants at his official residence Bute House.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following the trial in March.

Ms Evans said she could not comment on the claim when appearing before the committee but later clarified in a letter she was “very willing” to answer questions on the issue.

Ms Fabiani had ruled the question was not part of the committee’s remit, saying the inquiry was to look into the culture of the Scottish Government and not “individual cases or the behaviour of individuals”.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie and Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser – who originally asked the question of the Permanent Secretary – wrote to the convener saying they believed the questions should have been answered, asking to be allowed to “go where the evidence takes us”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to working with the committee. We welcome the opportunity the parliamentary inquiry brings to address issues which have been raised – and we will not pre-empt that process.

“We are providing all the relevant information requested by the committee, taking account of the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply.”