Sturgeon took three days to reveal legal action by Alex Salmond was likely

Nicola Sturgeon took three days to inform the Scottish Government’s most senior official there was a “serious prospect” of Alex Salmond taking legal action over the way sexual harassment allegations against him had been handled, it has emerged.

The First Minister said both the “tone and content” of a message she received from her predecessor on June 3 2018 led her “to conclude that legal action by Mr Salmond against the Scottish Government was a serious prospect”.

She added she decided she should make Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans aware of the situation, and wrote to her on June 6.

“When I became aware of a serious risk of legal action against my Government, I felt I had a duty to make the Permanent Secretary aware of it,” Ms Sturgeon said.

The move was revealed in her written evidence to MSPs probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the allegations – which saw Mr Salmond awarded more than £500,000 after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the investigation to be “unlawful”.

In her submission to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Ms Sturgeon told how she thought the former first minister was going to resign from the SNP when he first asked to meet with her in April that year.

Ms Sturgeon, also the SNP leader, said Mr Salmond had told her he was “in distress and wanted to talk to me about a serious matter”.

She initially “suspected that he may be about to resign from the SNP”, but she also suspected the man she had regarded as a friend for 30 years was “facing an allegation of sexual misconduct”.

An earlier discussion with Geoff Aberdein – who had worked as Mr Salmond’s chief of staff – had revealed the “fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter”, Ms Sturgeon said, adding she thought this included “the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature”.

The First Minister also recalled that in early November 2017, Sky News had asked the SNP about “allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond”.

Ms Sturgeon said she had asked the former first minister about this at the time, and said he denied it.

But she added: “Even though he assured me to the contrary, all of the circumstances surrounding this episode left me with a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage.”

When the pair met at Ms Sturgeon’s home on April 2 2018, he told her of the investigation under way against him, showing her a copy of a letter he had received regarding this.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Notwithstanding the suspicions I had harboured going into this meeting, I was shocked and upset by the reality of what I read.”

Recalling Mr Salmond’s response to the allegations, she said in “the main he denied them”, although there was “one matter he said that he had previously apologised and considered it out of order for it to be raised again”.

Mr Salmond said it was his intention to “seek a process of mediation between himself and the complainers” at that time, the First Minister said.

Ms Sturgeon had agreed to meet with the former SNP leader because, believing he might be about to quit the party, she wanted to know if this was the case so she could prepare for “what would have been a significant issue”.

But she told the committee there was also a “personal aspect” to her decision, saying: “Mr Salmond has been closer to me than probably any other person outside my family for the past 30 years, and I was being told he was very upset and wanted to see me personally.”

She also denied suggestions she had either conspired with Mr Salmond, or colluded against him.

“I reject in the strongest possible terms both of these suggestions,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

“Indeed it seems to me that what some want to present as ‘conspiracy’ is in actual fact my refusal to ‘collude’ or ‘cover up’.

“In what was a very difficult situation – personally, politically and professionally – I tried to do the right thing.

“Whether I always got it absolutely right is something I still reflect on, and the committee will consider, but I sought all along to act in good faith and to strike the right balance of judgment given the difficult issues I was confronted with.

“In the light of the #MeToo movement, I sought to ensure that the Scottish Government developed a process that allowed allegations of sexual harassment – including allegations of a historic nature – to be fully and fairly considered.”

Ms Sturgeon said she had not seen Mr Salmond since July 14 2018, when the pair had a “third and final” meeting at her home.

They then spoke on the phone a few days later on July 18, and Mr Salmond messaged her on that day and also on July 20, but Ms Sturgeon said she had not responded to these.

“I have had no contact with Mr Salmond since,” she said.