Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of continuing to “cover-up” a meeting with Alex Salmond’s former chief-of-staff after she was reminded she had taken part in it.
The Scottish Conservatives made the claim after Ms Sturgeon said the meeting with Mr Salmond’s former aide, Geoff Aberdein, had slipped her mind before her memory was jogged some time later.
The meeting is likely to be a key aspect of the Salmond inquiry as it investigates when Ms Sturgeon first knew about the harassment allegations that triggered the Scottish Government’s botched inquiry into Mr Salmond.
In evidence submitted to the Salmond inquiry this week, the first minister said she had forgotten about the the meeting held on March 29 2018 for a spell, but admitted she thought it “did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegation of a sexual nature”.
In her submission, Ms Sturgeon claimed she “had forgotten” that the encounter with Mr Aberdein “had taken place until I was reminded of it in, I think, late January/early February 2019”.
Ms Sturgeon failed to mention the Aberdein meeting when, on January 8 and 10 2019, she told Holyrood about meetings she had with Mr Salmond to discuss the harassment claims made against him.
Back then Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she first heard about the allegations against Mr Salmond when the former first minister told her in person when he visited her house on April 2 2018 – a few days after her meeting with Mr Aberdein.
The fact that Ms Sturgeon had met Mr Aberdein was only made public during Mr Salmond’s criminal trial, which resulted in the former SNP leader being cleared in March this year of all the sex offence charges he faced.
First Minister’s ‘fanciful tales’
But the Scottish Conservatives drew attention to an occasion a few months later in July this year when Ms Sturgeon was asked about her meeting on March 29 2018.
Ms Sturgeon was quizzed about a report saying that Sky News had seen an account of the Aberdein meeting which indicated that the complaints against Mr Salmond were discussed during her discussion with the first minister’s former chief-of-staff.
When tackled about the Sky News report, Ms Sturgeon told the Daily Record: “I stand by the statement I made to parliament.” A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “The first minister has made clear she stands by what she said in parliament.”
Murdo Fraser, the Tory MSP who sits on the Salmond inquiry, said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s fanciful tales are unravelling already.
“In July this year the First Minister had the chance to clear up the record. She was asked about the March 29 2018 secret meeting regarding the sexual misconduct allegations and she refused to reveal it. She said: ‘I stand by the statement I made to parliament.’
“She kept up the lie and tried to cover up that the meeting with Alex Salmond’s chief-of-staff involved discussion of these allegations, more than a year after she claims to have been reminded of it.
“Nobody is buying the forgetful Nicola Sturgeon act. It looks like the First Minister didn’t forget at all – she tried to keep pretending the secret meeting either didn’t happen or it wasn’t about the allegations against Alex Salmond. Her own words have caught her out.”
A spokesperson for the first minister said: “The Tories are deliberately conflating different issues. The first minister stands by what she has said in parliament and looks forward to giving evidence to the committee in due course.”