FM ‘not aware’ of women advised not to be alone with Salmond

Sturgeon was quizzed on the issue at First Minister's Questions as she pledged to fully comply with the Holyrood inquiry.

Nicola Sturgeon says she was not aware of female officials being advised not be alone with Alex Salmond when he was First Minister.

The FM was asked about the issue in parliament following the opening session earlier this week of Holyrood’s inquiry into the her government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints made against Salmond.

It was a claim first made about the former first minister during his criminal trial at the High Court in March, where Salmond was cleared of all charges.

Prosecutors said senior civil servants had ordered women working in Salmond’s team to avoid being left alone with him, even changing rotas to ensure it.

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Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asked Sturgeon if she was “herself aware of female civil servants being given that advice?”

She replied: “No, I wasn’t.”

But she added that the MSPs in charge of the inquiry are “perfectly entitled” to pursue the question.

The First Minister added she remains “absolutely committed to fully complying with the inquiry”.

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It comes after her permanent secretary Leslie Evans – the country’s top civil servant – appeared before the special Holyrood committee on Wednesday.

At the hearing, Ms Evans said she could not comment on claims that female civil servants were advised to avoid being alone with the former FM.

Committee convener and SNP MSP Linda Fabiana then prohibited further questioning on the issue, but did not rule out revisiting it in future.

In a previous answer at the hearing, the permanent secretary had indicated in general terms that she had never heard of rotas being changed in ministerial offices as a result of staff complaints.

Speaking at FMQs on Thursday, Sturgeon told MSPs that Ms Evans would be “happy to write to the committee to address this issue, if the committee wishes”.

It follows frustration among MSPs on the committee that documents requested by the inquiry from the Scottish Government were heavily redacted or not included in the evidence provided at all.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie noted Sturgeon had previously pledged to “co-operate fully” with the Holyrood inquiry.

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Baillie said: “Given that swathes of documents are heavily redacted and the Scottish Government is refusing access to key documents relating to the core of the inquiry’s remit, I hope the First Minister will want to stand by her earlier commitment.”

She called on Sturgeon to “instruct the full co-operation that is currently missing from the Scottish Government”.

The First Minister said: “I am absolutely committed to fully complying with the inquiry.

“I will personally attend the committee to answer questions when I am asked to do so. ”

She pledged to “answer all questions that are put to me” with the exception of questions where answering “would breach legal requirements”.

Sturgeon added that she had already submitted written evidence to the inquiry, saying it was for the committee to decide “when and to what extent” this is made public.

The inquiry was set up after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints against Salmond was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former First Minister more than £512,000 in damages.

Fraser has now called for the permanent secretary to “return to the Holyrood inquiry at the first opportunity and tell us the whole truth”.

But in a letter to other MSPs on the committee, its convener said it was not the inquiry’s purpose to “revisit the criminal trial” of Salmond.

However, Fabiani added: “It may well be that we can invite the permanent secretary to give evidence in writing on the matter, or, indeed that the matter can be raised again if she comes back to speak to this committee. ”