Police advised Government not to investigate harassment claims, MSPs told

Police Scotland advised the Scottish Government not to launch investigations into potentially criminal allegations of harassment, warning staff were not trained to investigate or “engage with victims”.

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor also said the Government asked Police Scotland “a number of hypothetical questions” about its harassment policy that appeared to be about a “specific set of circumstances”.

The communication with police occurred during the period the Scottish Government was drafting a complaints policy that included current and former ministers – prompting allegations from Scottish Labour it was “war-gaming” for action against Alex Salmond.

In written evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Government’s botched investigation of harassment claims against the former first minister, Ms Taylor said the force recommended referring complainants to support services rather than investigating the allegations.

Potential victims would then have been able to decide whether to report any allegations to the police.

After multiple women came forward in the wake of the MeToo movement in 2017 with concerns about Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour, the Scottish Government instead launched an investigation that was subsequently found to be unlawful.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the investigation was “tainted by apparent” bias due to prior communication between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who came forward, resulting in a £512,250 payout to Mr Salmond.

Scotland’s most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans, also had contact with complainants.

Asked about the police’s input in the Government’s updated harassment complaints policy, Ms Taylor said they advised on December 6 2017 that “where criminality was suspected, individuals should be directed to support and advocacy services, to enable them to make informed decisions about whether or not to report matters to the police”.

The Government continued to ask the police questions about the criminal justice process between December 2017 and August 2018, Ms Taylor added.

She wrote: “The hypothetical questions suggested more than one victim of potential criminality and as such, it was stressed that – without knowledge of the detail – any risk that a suspect might present could not be properly assessed or mitigated.

“It was highlighted that [Scottish Government] staff were not trained to undertake such investigations, or to engage with victims.

“No details of potential victims or perpetrators were provided by SG and, throughout the contact, Police Scotland encouraged SG to refer victims to appropriate support services.”

When Ms Evans was asked about involving the police in any complaints during a committee evidence session in August, she said: “We took advice from Police Scotland because we wanted to ensure that the procedure was appropriate and sympathetic, and that it was effective in terms of encouraging people to use it.”

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

She also told the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints: “The police’s view, which we adhered to and which is reflected in the procedure, is that the process must be led by the victim – by the people who are bringing concerns or complaints.

“If they wish to go to the police, they are at liberty to do so at every stage in the operation.

“However, as our investigation… reached its conclusion, the Scottish Government decided – informed by legal advice – that three of the complaints should be referred to Police Scotland.”

Following the submission by Police Scotland, Scottish Labour interim leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “From the timeline provided by the Deputy Chief Constable it seems obvious that the Scottish Government was attempting to stress-test their procedure ahead of taking action against Mr Salmond by war-gaming what the Deputy Chief Constable refers to as ‘hypothetical questions’.

“It is also clear that the Scottish Government referred complaints to the police via the Crown Agent, against the wishes of the women involved, and despite the police encouraging the Government to refer complainants to support services as a first port of call.”