Sturgeon dismisses ‘absurd’ allegations of plot against Alex Salmond

Scotland’s first minister defends handling of sexual harassment complaints against her predecessor

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon apologises to the public and the women who submitted sexual harassment complaints against her predecessor Alex Salmond. Video: Reuters

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Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has told a parliamentary inquiry she had no reason to wish to damage her predecessor Alex Salmond, dismissing as “absurd” the idea that she was part of a plot against him. Ms Sturgeon testified for eight hours before a committee investigating her government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The first minister rejected a series of allegations made by Mr Salmond when he appeared before the committee last week, including the assertion that she knew about the complaints earlier than she has admitted to.

Under relentless questioning from Labour and Conservative members of the committee, she defended her government’s decision to defend a legal challenge to its investigation into the complaints after external lawyers warned that defeat was likely.

She also rejected Mr Salmond’s claim, supported by testimony by two of his former associates this week, that the name of one of the complainants was disclosed to him. She said he already knew the name of one complainant because he had apologised to her and he discovered the name of the other through his own research.

Ms Sturgeon said she had never offered to intervene on Mr Salmond’s behalf after the complaints were made, adding that she believed that was the right course of action.

“I never wanted to face a situation where a man I revered – had revered – since I was 20, probably younger than that, was facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct. My conduct in all of this is rightly under scrutiny, I have no complaint about that. But I think it would have been deeply wrong for me to have intervened in any way, on behalf of Alex Salmond, to try to engineer the outcome he wanted,” she said.

The Scottish government had to pay over £500,000 in legal costs after conceding that its investigation into Mr Salmond had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias. Weeks after the government conceded, Mr Salmond was charged with 13 counts of sexual assault but was cleared of all charges after a criminal trial last year.

He claimed last week that the government persisted with its legal defence in the hope that the case would be overtaken by criminal charges against him.

Botched investigation

Ms Sturgeon said the legal advice changed over a period of two months and that the government’s law officers believed their case could succeed until shortly before they conceded.

“The charge that has been made against me is that I wilfully allowed a judicial review to proceed against the legal advice, therefore I broke the ministerial code. With respect, as you now know, I was acting in accordance with the views of the law officers, not against,” she said.

“We thought we had a stateable case, counsel was not arguing at that stage – that changed later – we thought we had credible arguments to make, and we were also taking account of that wider interest in getting a determination on the many grounds of challenge that Alex Salmond had made to both the procedure and its application.”

Ms Sturgeon apologised to the women who complained against Mr Salmond for her government’s botched investigation and she said that although he was acquitted on all charges in court, he had told her his behaviour had not always been appropriate.

“And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even a simple acknowledgement of that. I can only hope that in private, the reality might be different,” she said.