Lost ‘battle’ text referred to Alex Salmond’s legal challenge, official says

The Scottish Government’s director of communications has said she believed a text from Scotland’s top civil servant about losing a “battle” but winning a “war” referred to Alex Salmond’s successful legal challenge.

A judicial review ruled that a government investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister was “unlawful” and tainted by apparent bias.

Mr Salmond was awarded £512,000 of public money in legal costs as a result of the Court of Session’s decision.

On the day of the verdict, the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans texted Barbara Allison that the “battle maybe lost but not the war”.

In a subsequent criminal trial, Mr Salmond was found not guilty of 12 charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault. The jury also came to the uniquely Scottish verdict of not proven on one charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.

Giving evidence to a Holyrood committee set up to examine the government’s botched investigation, Ms Allison said she interpreted the “battle” reference as relating to Alex Salmond’s judicial review.

She sidestepped questions about what she understood “the war” meant, but pointed to Ms Evans’s evidence where she claimed it referred to equality and staff being heard.

In her first appearance before Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints last month, Ms Allison previously insisted she had not received the message about losing a battle but not the war.

She has since written to the committee to “correct the unintended inaccuracy” and informed them the Crown Office has provided her with evidence of the exchange between the pair “which they retrieved from my mobile phone in the context of a criminal trial”.

According to the letter, Ms Evans texted the government official while she was on holiday and said: “Thanks Barbara – battle maybe lost but not the war. Hope you are having lovely & well deserved break. L.”

Ms Allison replied: “Thanks Leslie. It is lovely here. My mind and thoughts are with you all there tho. Best wishes. Bx”

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

The two messages were sent on January 8 2019 – while Ms Allison was on holiday in the Maldives – on the same day as the court’s ruling on Mr Salmond’s judicial review.

Appearing before the committee for a second time, the government’s director for communications and ministerial support also revealed she has since deleted the messages between the pair.

“I don’t routinely keep all my texts,” Ms Allison said.

“I will clean out texts, so yes I must have deleted some texts.”

Consequently, Ms Allison was unable to tell MSPs details of any messages she had sent before Ms Evans’s apparent reply that was released by the Crown Office.

Asked by Alex Cole-Hamilton whether she could recall what she sent to elicit the response from Ms Evans, Ms Allison said: “I don’t remember getting Leslie’s reply, so I don’t remember the discussion.”

Ms Evans denied being “at war” with Mr Salmond when she previously gave evidence and claimed the text message from her was “misinterpreted”.

Scotland’s most senior civil servant insisted she had not been “referring to any individual” in the message.