Nicola Sturgeon has said the decision to settle the civil case against the Scottish Government regarding how it handled sexual misconduct complaints against Alex Salmond is “deeply regrettable”.
In a statement at Holyrood, the First Minister said she had not spoken to her predecessor since July and backed the decision by Scotland’s top civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, to settle the case after a failure to properly apply the complaints procedure.
But Mr Salmond – who denies the allegations against him – called for Ms Evans to quit, accusing her of “wasting” hundreds of thousands pounds of public money defending the administration’s “unlawful” handling of the complaints.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It remains my view that the government was right to begin an investigation when serious complaints were made and not allow them to be swept under the carpet because of the identity of the person complained about.”
But she stated: “It is deeply regrettable, and perhaps that is an understatement, that as a result of a failure in the proper application of one part of the procedure, the Scottish Government has had to settle this matter.”
Ms Sturgeon refused to make public the outcome of the investigation or the substance of the complaints, as she apologised to the two women who made them, saying they had “every right to expect the process to be robust and beyond reproach … and to reach a lasting conclusion”.
The SNP leader also said that while she met Mr Salmond three times during the investigation and spoke to him twice on the phone, she did not “seek to intervene in the process”.
Former SNP leader Mr Salmond took legal action against the government he once led, to contest the complaints process activated against him.
At the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Judge Lord Pentland ruled the Scottish Government’s actions were “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias”.
The court had heard the person who investigated the complaints had involvement with the complainers prior to being appointed investigating officer.
Outside the court, Mr Salmond said: “The government has made an abject surrender in terms of the case.”
He claimed Ms Evans was responsible for the “institutional failure” in the handling of the complaints and warned the case could cost the public purse as much as £500,000.
“Because the process has been agreed as unlawful, as unfair and tainted by apparent bias, then the Scottish Government have had to concede on the case and the expenses to the maximum extent,” the former first minister said.
“That is going to raise a cost to the public purse of many, many hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
He said the result was an “abject humiliation” for the Scottish Government and he hoped the “Permanent Secretary considers her position”.
Mr Salmond quit the SNP after bringing the legal challenge, but now intends to rejoin the party he once led.
He added: “I’m not putting out the bunting today. Yes, I’m glad to have won, I’m really really sad to be forced to take this action against a government I led for almost eight years.”
He stressed he had always maintained his innocence regarding the allegations and believed an ongoing police investigation would determine this.
Meanwhile, Ms Evans said an internal review would be carried out into the way the complaints process was handled and that she regretted the “distress” caused to the women who lodged the complaints.
The Permanent Secretary said: “It was right and proper that these complaints were investigated and I stand by the decision to carry out that investigation.
“It is also important to note that the procedural flaw in the investigation does not have implications, one way or the other, for the substance of the complaints or the credibility of the complainers.
“The judicial review was never about the substance of the complaints, but about the process that took place to investigate those complaints.”
As a result, she said it was open to the Scottish Government to re-investigate the complaints, adding that “subject to the views of the complainants, it would be our intention to consider this”.
But Ms Evans said this would only be “once ongoing police inquiries have concluded”.
Mr Salmond said this was an “extraordinary and desperate” statement, and indicated he is considering further legal action against the Permanent Secretary.