Sturgeon did not discuss Salmond allegations with me, says SNP chief executive

The SNP’s chief executive said his wife Nicola Sturgeon did not tell him about sexual harassment allegations involving former first minister Alex Salmond.

Peter Murrell said he arrived home during a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor on April 2 2018, in which Mr Salmond made her aware of the claims.

Although Mr Murrell said he had a “sense” the meeting was about something serious, he told a Holyrood inquiry that Ms Sturgeon did not reveal what had been discussed.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing

Giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Tuesday, he said he only learned about the sexual harassment complaints when they became public and denied being involved in a plot against the former first minister.

Mr Murrell said: “When you’re married to the First Minister, who is privy to lots of information, when she says she can’t talk about something you don’t continue to say ‘ah, but’ … ‘what about’…

“She’s been a minister for a long time and works very hard every day, every weekend and when we get precious time together the last thing we want to be doing is re-running days with each other.”

Mr Murrell, who has been SNP chief executive since 2000, said the first he heard about any potential misconduct by Mr Salmond was when Sky News inquired about an alleged incident involving Edinburgh Airport staff.

He said he and Ms Sturgeon “simultaneously” found out, adding: “All I can tell you is that – in all my years working with Alex across 30 years – the first time I saw anything of that nature being suggested was on November 4 2017.

“That is the truth.”

Mr Murrell was also repeatedly questioned about whether the First Minister’s meetings with Mr Salmond were on government business – and therefore should have been recorded – or were about party matters.

Asked about the apparent contradiction in their evidence, he said: “I wasn’t at home and I wasn’t aware of the capacity in which she was having the meetings.

“Her impression of what the meeting was about altered when the discussion happened so it seemed a reasonable version of events that she set out in her written submission.”

Mr Murrell said he regretted the “out of character” language he used in text messages sent to SNP’s chief operating officer Sue Ruddick that suggested “pressurising” police.

The messages, sent the day after Mr Salmond had first appeared in court, said: “Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions.

“Report now with the PF [Procurator Fiscal] on charges which leaves police twiddling their thumbs.

“So good time to be pressuring them. Would be good to know Met looking at events in London.”

A second message added: “Tbh the more fronts he is having to firefight the better for all complainers.

“So CPS action would be a good thing”.

Mr Murrell told MSPs: “I can see the language that I used was open to misinterpretation. It wasn’t about pressuring the police.

“There was a great deal of upset that day, I’d been working with Alex for 30 years at that point and I think we were all shocked by the scale of the charges that were being brought against him.”

He then acknowledged that, when the text was sent on January 26 2019, he had “some awareness that CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) action was possible or pending” in relation to complaints about Mr Salmond from people in Westminster.

Mr Murrell was appearing before the Holyrood committee set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister.

Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the way the complaints were dealt with was unlawful because of the investigating officer’s prior contact with some of the women who went on to make complaints.