Scottish Government accused of ‘incompetence’ over Salmond civil case timing

The Scottish Government displayed “breathtaking levels of incompetence and bullishness” by refusing to settle at an earlier date the civil case brought by Alex Salmond over harassment complaints, Scottish Labour has claimed.

Court papers released by the Scottish Government on Friday suggest its lawyers informed the former first minister’s legal team in early November 2018 that its investigating officer into the sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Salmond had prior contact with two complainants.

The Scottish Government conceded the case in early January 2019, when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans made public statements.

The former first minister was awarded £512,000 in damages as a result of the decision, after the court ruled the Scottish Government’s actions were “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias”.

The court documents have been submitted to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

Jackie Baillie
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the judicial review was lost as a result of ‘incompetence and bullishness’ (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Open Record, which was released on Friday after legal wrangling over its disclosure, says in the statement of facts from Mr Salmond’s legal team: “The appointment of the IO (investigating officer) was in contravention of the Procedure and that was not disclosed  to the petitioner until 5 November 2018.”

This is challenged by the Scottish Government’s legal team, which later in the document admits that prior to her appointment as investigating officer Judith Mackinnon had “involvement and contact” with the complainants.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who sits on the inquiry committee, said: “By refusing to concede to the petition for months after admitting that Ms Mackinnon had been in contact with complainants, the Scottish Government has displayed breathtaking levels of incompetence and bullishness.

“This investigation was doomed from the beginning, with roles being blurred and decisions being taken that opened the process up to legitimate allegations of bias.

“What is also clear is that the culture of secrecy, that the Scottish Parliament committee investigating this issue has had to put up with over the last few months, was alive and well during this investigation, with correspondence and documents being handed over begrudgingly, if at all.

“The botched judicial review left the public purse at least half a million pounds lighter and preoccupied civil servants and court officials for months.

“That the Scottish Government refused to concede to the petition despite clear breaches in protocol demonstrates that no price was too high to pay to cover up their incompetence and secrecy.”

Murdo Fraser
Murdo Fraser (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Fellow committee member, Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser, said: “We now know that the SNP Government became aware of the fatal error in their case at least two months before they conceded it.”

He added: “We need to know if the SNP Government were so incompetent that they didn’t realise the mistake they had become aware of – or if they knew their case was doomed and threw £500,000 down the drain anyway.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to co-operating fully with the inquiry and that is the right place for all of the relevant evidence to be heard. We will not pre-empt the outcome of the committee’s hearing.

“We are providing the relevant information requested by the committee so far as is possible given the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply.

“We have already provided the committee with over 1,000 pages of relevant material, responding directly to the questions asked by the committee, and Scottish Government witnesses have provided more than 10 hours of oral evidence so far.

“As a further example of our commitment to provide all possible material to the committee, we intend to initiate legal proceedings seeking to allow the release of further documents.”

Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault, indecent exposure and attempted rape at the High Court in Edinburgh in March.

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