Sturgeon to testify on role in harassment complaints against Salmond

First minister’s evidence to come after predecessor claims data release proves conspiracy

Nicola Sturgeon will testify under oath on Wednesday about her role in the handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, hours after the release of messages he claims prove a conspiracy against him.

The Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, gave the documents to the parliamentary committee investigating the government’s handling of the complaints but it is not certain when they will be made public.

After a legal challenge by Mr Salmond, the Scottish government admitted in January 2019 that its investigation was unlawful and “tainted by bias” because the senior official investigating had spoken to the accusers before they made their complaints.

Deputy first minister John Swinney on Tuesday admitted that government lawyers had expressed "reservations" about defending the case months before the defence was withdrawn at the cost of more than £500,000 in legal fees.

“The documents confirm that, whilst reservations were raised about the judicial review following the identification of the issue of prior contact with the complainers in late October, there were good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the Government to continue to defend the judicial review,” he told the parliamentary committee investigating the affair.

Mr Salmond claimed last week that the government knew its case was doomed and feared the political consequences but persisted with its legal defence in the hope the case would be overtaken by criminal charges against him. He said that by pursuing a costly course of action she knew to be destined for failure, Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

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.

The Scottish government refused to release the legal advice until a no-confidence motion in Mr Swinney looked likely to succeed. The Greens, who support the SNP minority government, said they would support the motion unless the material was published.

Legal advice

Scotland’s lord advocate James Wolffe said on Tuesday that Mr Swinney had not asked his permission to publish the legal advice until this week, despite a motion in parliament demanding it last November.

"It's jaw-dropping that they didn't even ask if the lord advocate would allow it to be published. Instead, they let the public and press think he was the block on its release, when it was SNP ministers all along. We now know that John Swinney refused to even consider publishing the legal advice until his job was on the line," said Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

Mr Wolffe defended the Crown Office’s role after Mr Salmond suggested it had been doing the government’s bidding by seeking to limit the testimony the parliamentary committee could hear.

He said it had been right to redact one of Mr Salmond’s written statements after the Crown Office parts of the submission were liable to be a breach of a court order.

“Mr Salmond has stated that the Crown has tied his hands in respect of the use of information that he holds – it is the law, not the Crown, that stays his hands,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times