First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night apologised to the two women who made sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond after the collapse of the Scottish Government’s investigation into the claims.
At the Court of Session yesterday, former Gordon MP Mr Salmond won his battle to contest the complaints process activated against him.
Judge Lord Pentland ruled the government’s actions were “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.
It came after the court heard the person who investigated the complaints of sexual misconduct – which Mr Salmond strongly denies – had involvement with the complainers prior to being appointed investigating officer.
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Outside the court, Mr Salmdon said he was “delighted” by the result but warned the case could cost the public purse as much as £500,000.
He claimed Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government was responsible for the “insistutional failure” in the handling of the complaints and called for her to quit.
But at Holyrood yesterday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon backed Ms Evans as she apologised to the female civil servants at the centre of the harassment claims.
The first minister said she could “only imagine” how difficult it must have been for the pair to raise their concerns given the publicity surrounding Mr Salmond’s decision to take the government to a judicial review.
STATEMENT – Alex Salmond welcomes court victory as Scottish Government admits defeat pic.twitter.com/QHaFJm6BzJ
— Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) January 8, 2019
She apologised to “all involved” and said “sorry” to the women that the process did not come to a conclusion.
And Ms Sturgeon revealed she had not spoken to her predecessor – and one-time mentor – since July, and said the complaints procedure could yet be reopened.
In a sign of her deteriorating relationship with Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon spoke of her “deep regret” at the outcome, and said it was “not a victory for anybody”.
Earlier at the Court of Session, the Scottish Government conceded that it had breached its own guidelines when investigating the claims, which dated from the time Mr Salmond was first minister.
Mr Salmond, who denies the allegations, had taken a judicial review against the government to contest the complaints process activated against him.
The court heard that Judith Mackinnon, a HR professional, was appointed investigating officer into the allegations made against Mr Salmond, despite having contact with the female complainers before her appointment.
Appearing in front of Lord Pentland, Mr Salmond’s lawyer Ronnie Clancy said Ms Mackinnon was designated as a point of contact for the two women up until the official complaints were made in January last year.
Mr Clancy said “a significant degree of assistance” was given by the investigating officer to the complainers.
Lord Pentland ruled that the Scottish Government’s actions were “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias”.
In a statement issued after the case, Ms Evans pre-empted Ms Sturgeon and said it was open to Scottish Government’s to re-investigate the complaints – but only after the ongoing police investigation into the conduct of Mr Salmond has concluded.
But at a press conference held outside the court, Mr Salmond claimed Ms Evans was responsible for “institutional failure” in the handling of the complaint and added that he would be looking at his legal options.
Mr Salmond said: “When she (Ms Evans) has got some time for mature reflection, I hope that the permanent secretary considers her position, not events in the future.”
He claimed the government had made an “abject surrender in terms of the case”, but Ms Sturgeon maintained the complaints process was “fair and robust”, apart from the legal flaw.
At Holyrood, stand-in Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said the process had been a “shambles”.
Mr Carlaw said: “What we have witnessed here today is deeply disappointing – a questionable investigation and seemingly a SNP civil war played out at the taxpayer’s expense to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs.”
He also questioned the three meetings – including one before a SNP conference in Aberdeen – and two phone calls that took place between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon.
Mr Carlaw said: “Paragraph 12 of the Scottish Government’s own procedures make clear that the first minister should only have been involved after the investigation into Mr Salmond was complete.
“But we now learn that while the investigation was ongoing the first minister had private meetings with Mr Salmond at her home and had two further phone calls with him.
“We know that Mr Salmond raised his case with Ms Sturgeon at these meetings. How then can she claim not to have been involved?”
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in the first meeting, on April 2, 2018, Mr Salmond told her about the compalints and “set out his various concerns about the process.”
At other times, he repeated these concerns and mentioned the proposals being made to the Scottish Government about mediation and arbitration.
She said: “I was always clear that I had no role in the process and I did not seek to intervene in it at any stage – nor indeed did I feel under pressure to do so.”