A woman who accused former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond of sexual harassment has found the Holyrood committee’s investigation ‘more traumatic’ than the High Court trial.
The woman, speaking anonymously to the BBC, said the Scottish Government ‘let down’ women who complained because of its unlawful investigation.
But she said the committee inquiry set up to look into the botched investigation of Mr Salmond had turned the issue into a ‘political fight’ and suggested any conclusions it reaches will be ‘utterly useless’.
She also denied claims that there had been a conspiracy to target Mr Salmond and said: ‘It is utterly absurd to suggest that nine women could be persuaded to lie to the police, to perjure themselves in court.’
The accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of the women who gave evidence during Mr Salmond’s criminal trial at the High Court in Edinburgh in March 2020.
Mr Salmond was accused of attacking nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges last year, while another was found ‘not proven’.
The trial ended his friendship with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, with her former ally declaring angrily outside court that the claims he faced were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’.
Mr Salmond challenged the legality of the Scottish Government’s investigation and it emerged that the government-appointed investigating officer, Judith Mackinnon, had made prior contact with two of the complainants.
The judicial review was eventually conceded by the Scottish Government – meaning the investigation was found to be unlawful – and Mr Salmond received a £512,250 payout for his legal fees.
The woman, speaking anonymously to the BBC, said the Scottish Government ‘let down’ women who complained because of its unlawful investigation
The accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of the women who gave evidence during Alex Salmond’s criminal trial at the High Court in Edinburgh in March 2020
Why the Alex Salmond Inquiry and his bitter battle with Nicola Sturgeon is so crucial to the SNP’s IndyRef2 campaign
The Alex Salmond inquiry could fatally damage Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and dash her hopes of a second independence referendum.
Alex Salmond believes his successor misled the Scottish parliament and broke the ministerial code by giving ‘false’ evidence about her meetings with him, which her husband’s evidence could help prove.
The row centres on a meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018, which she said later was the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor.
Nicola Sturgeon may have broken the ministerial code of conduct by meeting Alex Salmond to discuss a government matter in her own home but failed to invite civil servants, take minutes or disclose the meeting.
It would also add fuel to claims by Mr Salmond’s allies that Ms Sturgeon was conspiring to oust him once and for all and her SNP boss husband Peter Murrell was helping her force the issue.
Why was an inquiry called?
The inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong with the government’s investigation of two internal harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.
The government conceded its process had been ‘unlawful’ and agreed to pay the former SNP leader £500,000 in expenses after he launched a judicial review action in the courts.
What has Nicola Sturgeon said?
The First Minister said the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor was when he told her himself at her home in April 2018.
But in her submissions to the inquiry Ms Sturgeon said she had ‘forgotten’ about a meeting with a former aide to Mr Salmond three days prior.
She said: ‘I thought Mr Salmond may be about to resign from the SNP and that, as a result of this or other aspects of how he intended to handle the matter he was dealing with, the party could have been facing a public/media issue that we would require to respond to. As Party Leader, I considered it important that I knew if this was in fact the case in order that I could prepare the party to deal with what would have been a significant issue.’
What has Alex Salmond said?
Mr Salmond says Nicola Sturgeon’s claim she had ‘forgotten’ a meeting where she discussed sexual harassment allegations with a former aide of his before meeting him at her home undermines her evidence, calling it ‘ridiculous’.
He said in his written submissions to the inquiry last month: ‘In her written submission to the Committee, the First Minister has subsequently admitted to that meeting on 29th March 2018, claiming to have previously ‘forgotten’ about it. That is, with respect, untenable.
‘The pre-arranged meeting in the Scottish Parliament of 29th March 2018 was ‘forgotten’ about because acknowledging it would have rendered ridiculous the claim made by the First Minister in Parliament that it had been believed that the meeting on 2nd April was on SNP Party business’.
Who is SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and why is it important what Nicola Sturgeon’s husband says about the April 2 meeting?
Peter Murrell’s evidence is that he thought Alex Salmond, the former Leader of the SNP, was ‘popping in for a chat’ with his wife, the current Leader of the SNP. He said that he didn’t ask what it was about and was out of the house at the time.
What did he say about the meeting? .
The married couple’s evidence doesn’t appear to match because she claims this was because it was about party business. Yet Mr Murrell is chief executive of the party, but previously said he thought the meeting was Scottish Government business and he wasn’t involved.
On what the meetings between his wife and Alex Salmond were about
In written submissions to the inquiry: ‘I has a sense that something serious was being discussed. The nature of Nicola’s job means that when she tells me she can’t discuss something, I don’t press it’
In evidence in December: ‘I was not aware of the capacity in which she was having those meetings.’
In evidence today: ‘I wasn’t aware that the meeting was for a purpose. I just thought he was popping in for a chat about, you know, any, any matter’
On whether he was in the house
In evidence December: Murrell first told the committee three times that he wasn’t home during the meetings between his wife and Alex Salmond.
Later in the session he said: ‘I came home from work and there were still people in the house at that point. I arrived home not long before the meeting ended.’
In evidence on Monday: ‘I wasn’t here for any part of the meeting, I happened to arrive home just as the meeting was finishing; that’s all I can say, it’s not complicated. I absolutely refute what’s being suggested but I just happened to arrive home as the meeting was ending.
What if he lied to the Inquiry?
Wilfully making a false statement under oath is punishable by up to five years in jail. But it would also have dire political consequences for his wife and the SNP. Mr Murrell denies he has lied about anything.
What will happen next?
After Mr Murrell’s appearance, the former first minister Mr Salmond refused to appear before the committee on Tuesday until a dossier containing allegations about Nicola Sturgeon is published. The Spectator ruling may now change this and a committee will consider this today.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to appear next Tuesday.
Speaking about the Scottish Government’s investigation, which the Court of Session found to be ‘tainted by apparent bias’, the woman told the Sunday Show: ‘It takes a lot of courage to report sexual harassment, particularly against a very powerful person.
‘I think the fact that the Government were willing to investigate those complaints is positive but clearly they let down those women and they have a responsibility to fix that for anybody else in the future.’
Asked about the complaints procedure that was applied unlawfully but remains in place, the woman said: ‘From what I can see it hasn’t been fixed yet and I think the thing that’s really disappointing, particularly through the committee process, is that the fact that committee members have turned this into a political fight has effectively allowed the Government to get away with not being properly scrutinised by members on its procedures.’
The Government has since asked Laura Dunlop QC to conduct a review of the complaints procedure against current and former ministers.
The whole saga has made it ‘much harder for women to be believed and for women to be able to come forward’, the accuser said.
‘I think the committee has strayed so far from its own remit that it has made any of its findings, completely useless.
‘I think that they really had an opportunity to ensure that they could investigate the creation of procedures that would make it safe and easy for women to come forward and they have made it significantly harder.’
Criticising the way the committee has acted, she said: ‘It’s actually, in many ways, more traumatic than the experience of the High Court trial.’
The woman said she hoped the committee could have been ‘impartial’ and would ‘properly investigate the Government’ in order to help eradicate sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.
‘Instead, what has happened is they have taken your very personal experiences and they have exploited them for their own self-serving political interests, and that in and of itself is something that’s really traumatic,’ she said.
Later during the programme, Convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Linda Fabiani, offered a personal apology to the women who have criticised the inquiry’s behaviour.
‘I’m very very sad to hear that, but I understand that,’ the SNP MSP said, after hearing the woman’s remarks.
Ms Fabiani added: ‘I am really sorry that people feel that way, that these women feel that way – absolutely sorry.
‘I can only apologise for myself I can’t apologise for anybody else, that’s up to them.
‘I absolutely apologise for the way that things have gone that makes any complainant feel that we have exploited them.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We welcome the opportunity which the parliamentary inquiry and the externally led review bring to address issues which have been raised, and which we have acknowledged.
‘We are committed to a learning process and will ensure that lessons from these proceedings are fully recognised.
‘The Scottish Government continues to support staff and discharge duty of care, including in relation to issues surrounding the Parliamentary committee.
‘A range of support is available for anyone who should need it, and this has been communicated to staff.’
It comes as Mr Salmond asked to appear at the inquiry tearing the SNP apart ‘any day’ next week after The Spectator won a legal battle that could pave the way for the former First Minister to give evidence and make incendiary claims about Ms Sturgeon.
Mr Salmond refused to go to the Holyrood committee on Tuesday after officials refused to publish his submissions that declare war on his successor – but this may change after the magazine’s big win at Edinburgh High Court on Thursday
The toxic feud between Scotland’s First Minister and her predecessor threatens to spiral out of control and wreck her push for IndyRef2 with their battle royale already shaving four per cent off support for Scottish independence in the past month.
Mr Salmond has accused Miss Sturgeon of making ‘untrue’ and ‘untenable’ claims about their 2018 meeting at her Glasgow home where they discussed sexual harassment claims against him.
If proven she lied to the Scottish Parliament, Miss Sturgeon may have breached the ministerial code of conduct and could be forced from office. Mr Salmond’s allies believe she was conspiring against him to cement her position as SNP leader.
Judge Lady Dorrian agreed to amend a ‘loosely worded’ court order imposed after Salmond’s trial where he was cleared of 14 sex attacks after an application by The Spectator and its publisher, Andrew Neil, founder of the new GB News TV channel.
The inquiry committee had claimed the order prevented it from publishing Mr Salmond’s evidence – including a dossier of claims about Miss Sturgeon – and now his lawyers have seized on the magazine’s win and written to MSPs saying that they hope this will allow the evidence to be published and their client to appear within days.
Mr Salmond’s supporters believe he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ms Sturgeon to force him out, bolstered by the emergence of a message from her husband to another SNP official where he said it was a ‘good time to be pressurising’ the police over the claims.
Mr Salmond has offered to appear before the inquiry on any day next week and answer questions under oath – if it accepts and publishes a resubmitted version of his evidence.
An emergency meeting will be held today for the committee to consider the court ruling and Mr Salmond’s latest offer.
The former SNP leader was due to appear before the committee on Tuesday.
However, he refused to travel to Holyrood after officials said they would not publish his submission – in which he accused Miss Sturgeon of making ‘untrue’ and ‘untenable’ claims about their meetings in 2018 where they discussed allegations against him.
The inquiry is examining the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints that were made against Mr Salmond by two women.
He had that exercise set aside after a successful legal challenge – with officials conceding it had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
Mr Salmond was awarded £512,000 of taxpayers cash in legal fees after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with the complainants.
He and Miss Sturgeon are now the only two witnesses yet to appear before the inquiry.
Mr Salmond has been locked in a bitter row over appearing. Earlier this week an inquiry spokesman said he had set conditions it ‘could never meet’ because of court orders in relation to his criminal trial in which he was cleared of 13 charges – including attempted rape.
The Alex Salmond inquiry could fatally damage Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and dash her hopes of a second independence referendum
Mr Salmond was accused of attacking nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’
Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News.
Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.
April 2, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Ms Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.
April 23, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Ms Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.
June 6, 2018: Ms Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.
June 7, 2018: Ms Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.
July 14, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.
July 18, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Ms Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’
This is the last time Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints.
January 2019: Mr Salmond wins sexual harassment inquiry case against Scottish government and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.
March 23, 2020: Alex Salmond is cleared of all sexual assault charges and his supporters demanded a full inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the scandal.
January 24, 2021: Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon denies misleading the Scottish Parliament after ‘forgetting’ to tell MSPs about her meeting with Mr Salmond’s aide on March 29, 2018.
February 8, 2021: Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and the First Leader’s husband, is accused of a ‘dismal and shifty’ performance as he gave evidence to the inquiry on Zoom.
February 16, 2021: Mooted date for Ms Sturgeon to appear before the inquiry.
The committee said it would now move on without hearing from him. But The Spectator magazine went to the High Court yesterday asking for the order to be amended to give ‘comfort and clarity’ about what can and cannot be published in relation to the inquiry.
An amendment suggested by the publication’s lawyers was not taken forward, but judge Lady Dorrian suggested another which was accepted by all, including the Crown Office.
The reasons for the change will be published next week. The Spectator’s lawyer said this could ‘be more important than the change’ itself.
Ronald Clancy, QC, who is acting for the magazine, argued the order is having a ‘significant influence’ on how the committee is operating.
Tory spokesman on the inquiry Murdo Fraser said: ‘We have been saying from the outset that our committee will not be able to do its job properly unless we are able to question Alex Salmond in person. While we await the full details of the revised order and what implications it will have, I am satisfied that we now have grounds to compel Salmond to attend.’
Fellow committee member Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s interim leader, said: ‘This decision presents the committee with the opportunity to publish the evidence and question Mr Salmond – we must seize that opportunity with both hands.’
A Scottish parliament spokesman said: ‘The committee has agreed to meet to discuss the potential impact on the inquiry once Lady Dorrian’s judgment has been properly considered by the parliament’s legal advisers and those of the former First Minister. The committee notes Mr Salmond’s wish that he attend to give evidence.’
Earlier this week Scottish Tories called for police to probe Ms Sturgeon’s husband over his ‘dismal and shifty’ performance after he was grilled by a Holyrood inquiry about a ‘secret’ meeting she had with Alex Salmond.
Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive, was accused of a ‘masterclass in evasion’ as he was recalled to the inquiry after giving contradictory evidence during his previous appearance before MSPs.
He denied perjury and rejected the idea he was being coached by someone off screen during his Zoom evidence.
The row over Mr Murrell’s evidence centres on a meeting between his wife and Mr Salmond at their Glasgow home on April 2, 2018, which she said was the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor.
But in her submissions to the inquiry, Ms Sturgeon, who will appear in person next week, conceded she had ‘forgotten’ about a meeting with a former aide to Mr Salmond three days prior where it was discussed.
Critics say that shows Ms Sturgeon’s written evidence to MSPs was ‘a pile of nonsense’ – while there are also questions over whether the Court of Session was misled. She has flatly denied being responsible for misleading the authorities.
Despite being the SNP’s chief executive, and husband of the party’s leader, Mr Murrell insists he knew nothing about the talks, what they were about and insists he was out that evening, telling MSPs in December he never talks about government business with his wife.
But Mr Murrell was recalled to the inquiry on Monday morning after giving contradictory evidence during his previous appearance before MSPs in December.
He initially told the committee examining the Scottish Government’s botched and unlawful investigation of Mr Salmond he was not at home when the former first minister told Ms Sturgeon about claims he sexually harassed women. But in a later answer, Mr Murrell revealed he came home while the meeting was taking place on April 2 2018.
During his second appearance before the committee this week, Mr Murrell refused to give a yes or no answer when repeatedly asked if he gave a false statement about the meeting.
In response to committee member Murdo Fraser, who warned that lying under oath can result in a jail sentence of up to five years, Mr Murrell denied he had committed perjury.
Mr Fraser said after the hour-long hearing: ‘Mr Murrell has given false evidence to parliament under oath. He gives the impression that he can say whatever he wants with impunity but in Scotland such actions must surely have consequences. I intend to write to the Crown Office to ask them to investigate the matter.
‘The First Minister lied to parliament and her husband shares the same casual disregard about telling the truth. We had to drag him back to give evidence because of his previous contradictions around key aspects of his and his wife’s actions in relation to the former First Minister.
‘Today’s evidence session was no better. Mr Murrell seems incapable of giving a straight answer. His dismal and shifty performance was a masterclass in evasion’.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond while on the 2015 General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency
A January 21 poll by Savanta ComRes has found 57 per cent of Scots back independence while 43 per cent back staying part of the UK
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has refused to request a ministerial code of conduct probe be widened after Ms Sturgeon’s former mentor, Mr Salmond, accused the First Minister of ‘repeatedly’ misleading parliament.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: ‘The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation.’
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: ‘The political culture in the SNP government is a nauseating cocktail of arrogance, secrecy and incompetence.’
Mr Swinney has refused to widen a probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over the Alex Salmond affair.
The Deputy First Minister has refused to bow to pressure for a wider look at what Ms Sturgeon knew about the allegations against her former mentor.
The First Minister is already being investigated over possible breaches of the code of conduct by failing to disclose meetings with Mr Salmond. The meetings included discussions that Mr Salmond was facing complaints of sexual harassment made against him.
Mr Salmond has claimed the Scottish parliament was ‘repeatedly misled on a number of occasions’ by Ms Sturgeon about a meeting he held with her in April 2018.
Members of the committee holding an inquiry into the handling of the harassment complaints against Mr Salmond have asked for the probe into Ms Sturgeon to include new revelations.
Miss Sturgeon has insisted she did not mislead parliament and hit back at the claims from her predecessor.
She said: ‘These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee on inquiry and also by an independent adviser on matters relating to the ministerial code. I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries and people will draw their own conclusions.’
She added: ‘I do not consider I misled parliament but, of course, that is for others to judge.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.’