Scottish government admits Salmond investigation was ‘tainted’

Former first minister took court action over government’s handling of sexual misconduct claims

Alex Salmond arriving at the Court of Session in Edinburgh his  legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s handling of a complaint of misconduct against him. Photograph: PA

Alex Salmond arriving at the Court of Session in Edinburgh his legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s handling of a complaint of misconduct against him. Photograph: PA

 

The Scottish government on Tuesday accepted that its investigation into alleged misconduct by former first minister Alex Salmond was unfair and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The government stressed that the failings of the investigation had no bearing on the veracity or otherwise of the allegations against Mr Salmond, who also faces a police investigation into his past conduct.

But the admission that the process was unfair marked a stunning victory for Mr Salmond in his unprecedented legal challenge against the government he used to lead over its handling of sexual misconduct claims dating back to his time as first minister.

Mr Salmond’s legal challenge and the allegations against him had raised tensions within the governing Scottish National party, now led by his protégé and successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon had no involvement in the investigation, but approved the complaints procedure it was carried out under and had previously insisted the Scottish government would “defend its position vigorously” in court.

In a press conference after Edinburgh’s court of session ruled the government’s decisions against him were unlawful, Mr Salmond focused his criticism on Scotland’s top civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans.

Ms Evans should “consider her position” after “a day of abject humiliation for the Scottish government”, said the former first minister, who was also awarded costs in a case estimated to involve total legal fees for both sides of about £500,000 (€555,000).

In a surprise court session brought before a four-day hearing planned for next week, Judge Lord Pentland heard that the government’s investigating officer had made substantial contact with one of Mr Salmond’s accusers before taking up the role.

Apparent bias

In court, Mr Salmond’s lawyer suggested the investigating officer’s role had “strayed into the realms” of encouraging one of the former officials to proceed with a formal complaint. This was contested in court by the government, but it accepted that the contacts meant the investigation was tainted by apparent bias.

Ms Evans apologised for what she called the incorrect application of “one particular part” of its investigation procedure. “There is nothing to suggest that the investigating officer did not conduct their duties in an impartial way,” she said.

She said the government would consider whether to re-investigate the complaints against Mr Salmond, but only after police inquiries had concluded.

In her statement, Ms Evans did not comment on whether she had been aware that the investigating officer had prior contact with a complainant before their appointment to the role, as suggested by Mr Salmond’s lawyer.

The SNP remains one of the most disciplined and cohesive parties in UK politics, but some members say its unity has been strained by the allegations against Mr Salmond and by differences over how quickly it should push for another referendum on independence from the UK.

Mr Salmond, who resigned from the SNP in August but now hopes to rejoin the party, carefully avoided direct criticism of Ms Sturgeon, saying he thought she “should concentrate on achieving independence for Scotland”.

He declined to comment on the police investigation until it was completed, saying only that while he had never claimed to be an angel, “I am certainly not guilty of any criminality”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019