What to expect as Holyrood’s Salmond inquiry gets under way

Scotland's top civil servant Leslie Evans is due to give evidence before MSPs in Tuesday's opening session.

Key players: Sturgeon and husband Peter Murrell, Salmond and top civil servant Leslie Evans. Getty Images
Key players: Sturgeon and husband Peter Murrell, Salmond and top civil servant Leslie Evans.

The Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond is about to get under way.

Scotland’s top civil servant Leslie Evans is due to give evidence before a cross-party committee of MSPs in the inquiry’s opening session on Tuesday.

The complaints, while not directly related, ultimately triggered Police Scotland’s separate investigation into Salmond, leading to a criminal trial.

The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges of sexual offences by a jury in the High Court in March.

What is the inquiry?

ADVERT

A special Holyrood committee – formally known as the committee on Scottish Government handling of harassment complaints – was set up in 2019 to examine how claims against Alex Salmond were dealt with.

It is made up of nine MSPs – four SNP, two Conservatives and one from Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems.

It is headed up by deputy presiding officer Linda Fabiani.

How did we get here?

At the crux of why an inquiry was set up more than 18 months ago was the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the initial complaints made against Salmond.

ADVERT

Claims of sexual misconduct against him, made by two women in 2018 but which dated back to 2013, came shortly after the Scottish Government reformed its complaints procedures in the wake of the Me Too movement.

Salmond slammed the process as illegal, branding it “unfair and unjust” as he took the government he used to lead to court.

It emerged that the investigating officer appointed to handle the complaints internally had previously had contact with both complainers.

Scottish Government officials defended this contact as amounting to “welfare support and guidance”, but it was in breach of their own rules and fatal for their case.

They conceded defeat before the judicial review even got to its main hearings.

Presiding in the case at the Court of Session, Lord Pentland said the actions of government officials had been unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The end-result was humiliating damages of more than £512,000 paid to Salmond by the Scottish Government.

ADVERT

Salmond’s supporters believe the botched case – and the swift progress of the police investigation against him afterwards – are evidence of a conspiracy against him.

What can the inquiry do?

In its own words, the committee’s remit is “to consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond”.

It has already sought – with varying degrees of success – tranches of documentation related to the case, such as correspondence between key players at the time, SNP and government records and written evidence.

The MSPs will look at how the new complaints procedure was drawn up – and crucially, what went wrong with its implementation with regards to the complaints against the former FM.

It will also want to know more about the build-up to and fall-out from the January 2019 judicial review.

The inquiry has further said it will seek to examine the “culture” of the Scottish Government under both Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and her predecessor’s.

Most intriguingly, witnesses at the inquiry will have to give evidence under oath.

Those witnesses include permanent secretary Leslie Evans, first up on Tuesday, who faced repeated calls to be axed from Salmond and his allies in the wake of the Court of Session fiasco.

Salmond himself – who has taken a vow of silence since the end of his High Court trial, citing the coronavirus pandemic – is expected to speak.

His lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC, said in closing in March that the High Court case against his client “stinks” and had come from “the political bubble”.

Speaking on the court steps after the jury’s verdict exonerated him, Salmond vowed that evidence that could not be heard in court would eventually “see the light of day”.

And his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, will also give evidence to the inquiry.

So will her husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, her deputy first minister John Swinney, and a swathe of civil servants and past and present political advisers.

Sturgeon has long committed to giving a full accounting of events to the inquiry.

She has been dogged throughout the saga by questions of what she knew and when, while she has also rubbished any notion of a conspiracy.

Speaking in January 2019, she said: “As First Minister I don’t consider it optional to me whether or not I appear before parliamentary committees, that is a part of my job and a part of my responsibility.”

She also already referred herself to independent advisers who will consider if she breached the ministerial code during meetings and phone calls with Salmond in 2018.

Sturgeon has always maintained she first learned of the investigation into Salmond’s conduct when he told her about it at a meeting in her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018.

But at the criminal trial, Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein said on the witness stand he had met the First Minister at her Scottish Parliament office on March 29.

The FM insists her only role in the complaints process was signing it off the year before – and that she has always “acted appropriately and in good faith”.

What can’t the inquiry do?

The inquiry is not an opportunity to re-litigate the case against Salmond that was dismissed by a High Court jury.

For one thing, the claims made to Scottish Government officials in 2018 and those made to Police Scotland are different and not directly related.

For another thing, that’s not what the inquiry is for. Its remit is precise and focused on the actions of the Scottish Government.

In due course, it will produce a report based on everything it discovers in the coming weeks and months.

It will aim to hold the key players to account and weed out any mistakes or misconduct that might have occurred during the period.

It will likely make recommendations and advise on lessons learned, and give a view on the robustness of the government’s complaints policies.

If there is evidence one way or the other, it may be able to come to a view on whether claims of a politically-motivated conspiracy against Salmond have merit or not.

But the inquiry cannot itself prosecute or sanction anyone.

It could, in the quest for cooperation from ministers and officials, attempt to use the courts to enforce its will, as is being discussed in the current battle to get a resistant Scottish Government to turn over documents containing legal advice from the time, which officials say is privileged.

The committee has asked for three lots of evidence from the government – the first on how the complaints policy used against Salmond was developed; the second on the judicial review; and the third on the investigation of the complaints themselves.

It has been angered by withheld and redacted documents as well as a failure by officials to meet a July deadline to turn over the final tranche of evidence requested.

List of prospective witnesses

  • Current and former permanent secretaries
  • Staff trade unions
  • The First Minister
  • The deputy first minister
  • Alex Salmond
  • Former chief of staff to Alex Salmond, Geoff Aberdein
  • The First Minister’s chief of staff
  • A number of senior civil servants
  • Lord Advocate James Wolffe
  • Chief Executive of the SNP, Peter Murrell

Murder probe launched into death of teenager at railway station

Justin McLaughlin, 14, died following an incident at High Street station in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon.

Police Scotland

Police have launched a murder inquiry following the death of a 14-year-old boy at a Glasgow railway station.

Justin McLaughlin was found seriously injured at High Street train station after being attacked with a knife at around 3.45pm on Saturday, October 16.

He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

An extensive investigation into Justin’s death is under way and police are appealing to members of the public to assist with their enquiries.

ADVERT

Detective chief inspector Brian Geddes, of Police Scotland’s major investigation team and the senior investigating officer, said: “Our thoughts very much remain with Justin’s family and friends. His family have asked for their privacy to be respected at this very difficult time, and they are being supported by specialist officers.

“Although enquiries are at an early stage, what we do know is that an incident took place at High Street train station and we are sure that there will be people who may have witnessed something in the lead up to this.

“The area would have been busy with members of the public and commuters and we are urging those who have any information, no matter how small, to get in contact with police.”

STV News

James McParland, Justin’s headmaster at St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge, paid tribute to the teenager and said pupils will be given additional support upon their return to school on Monday.

ADVERT

Mr McPartland said: “The community of St Ambrose High School is shocked and saddened by the death of Justin McLaughlin.

“Justin was a valued member of our community and his loss will be felt by staff and pupils alike.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends, and additional pastoral support will be available to young people within the school on their return on Monday morning.”

Detectives have set up an online portal to encourage members of the public to submit information.

The Major Incident Public Portal (MIPP) is a website that gives the public access to a form so they can send information directly to the major incident teams based at the Scottish Crime Campus:

Detective inspector Marc Francey, of British Transport Police, said: “This was a shocking act of violence in broad daylight, which has seen a boy tragically lose his life.

“We are working closely with Police Scotland and doing all we can to find those responsible, and I would urge any witnesses, or anyone who was in the area at the time and saw anything suspicious, to contact us as soon as possible.

ADVERT

“We will also be increasing our uniformed patrols in the local area in the coming days to help reassure the travelling public.”

STV News

Police Scotland can be contacted by calling 101 and quoting incident number 2280 of Saturday October 16. 

BTP can also be contacted by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 394 of 16/10/21.

Alternatively, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

More on:

Two children in critical condition after motorway crash

Two women and a man were also seriously injured in the crash on the M8 on Sunday morning.

Police Scotland
Crash: Two children are in a critical condition and three adults seriously injured following collision.

Two children are in hospital in a critical condition after a motorway crash in West Lothian.

Police said the incident, which involved a Ford Focus and a Volkswagen Golf, happened on the M8 at junction 4, near Whitburn, at around 9.50am on Sunday.

A woman, a man and two children who were in the Ford were seriously injured and taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.

The children, aged six and 14, are in a critical condition.

ADVERT

The female driver of the Volkswagen Golf was taken to University Hospital Wishaw with serious injuries.

The road reopened at 2.35pm.

Sergeant Jennifer Forbes said: “We’re asking for anyone who witnessed the collision or has any potential dashcam footage of the cars involved to please come forward.

“If you believe you can assist our investigation, please call 101, quoting incident 1158 of October 17.”


Former Scottish Labour MP Ernie Ross dies aged 79

Mr Ross, who was the MP for Dundee West from 1979 until 2005, died on Sunday.

Matthew Horwood via Getty Images
Death: Tributes paid to former MP Ernie Ross.

Former Labour MP Ernie Ross has died at the age of 79.

Mr Ross, who was the MP for Dundee West from 1979 until 2005, died on Sunday in the city.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar paid tribute, saying Mr Ross was a “passionate voice against injustice, not just in Dundee but across the world”.

He added: “Whether campaigning to save the local dental hospital or for human rights abroad, he knew the importance of using the privilege afforded to him by politics to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves.

ADVERT

“Across the parliament and the Labour Party he was a trusted confidante, adviser and friend.

“My thoughts and the thoughts of the entire Scottish Labour family are with June, his beloved family and his many friends.”

Michael Marra , shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills, said the former Dundee MP was “utterly devoted to his family”.

He wrote on Twitter: “He and June were such good friends to my wife and I and to so many in the party. Always full of encouragement and advice. A very good man who I loved dearly and who I will always miss. RIP.”


Fisherman missing after failing to return from boat trip

Joe Masson left his home in Fraserburgh at 10am on Saturday to go out on his creel boat.

Police Scotland
Missing: Joe Masson has not been seen for more than 24 hours.

A fisherman has gone missing after failing to return home following a trip on his creel boat in Aberdeenshire. 

Joe Masson left his home in Fraserburgh at 10am on Saturday to go out on his boat and was last seen around 1.30pm on board the vessel from Cairnbulg Harbour, Cairnbulg.

The 73-year-old’s family reported him missing after he failed to return home later that day and a search involving police, HMS Coastguard, the MOD and the RNLI has been ongoing to trace him.

Inspector Mark Young from Ellon Police Station said: “We have had significant resources in the area searching for Mr Masson, including the Coastguard helicopter, and search activity will continue in the meantime.

ADVERT

“The harbour is popular with fishermen and local walkers and I am keen to hear from anyone who was in the area between 10am and 6pm yesterday who may have seen Mr Masson or his blue creel boat ‘Goodway FR23’

“Please call Police Scotland on 101 quoting reference number 3854 of Saturday October 16 2021 if you have seen Mr Masson or have any information that will assist officers with their enquiries.”


Pupils eligible for free school meals ‘should be given food packages’

Families in Midlothian have been given money to help buy packed lunches due to a lack of hot school meals.

OwenPrice via Getty Images
Plea: Councillor urges for families to be given food packages rather than cash.

Families of primary school children who are still missing out on hot school meals should be given food packages rather than cash to support them, a councillor has said.

Hot meals are still off the menu for older primary school children in Midlothian with the local authority giving families who qualify for free meals cash to buy their own packed lunches.

However councillor Kelly Parry has become so concerned by the situation she contacted the cabinet secretary for education Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP seeking advice.

She has urged the council’s chief executive Grace Vickers to take onboard the advice from the MSP, who said local authorities need to step in and provide food not money to families who are struggling to find nutritious meals.

ADVERT

Councillor Parry said: “I have been contacted by so many families who are concerned about the lack of hot school meals being provided to their children.

“It is so difficult and stressful for many parents, some of whom are working two jobs, to find the food items they need to make sure their children have a proper lunch.

“The supermarket shelves are not well stocked at the moment and costs are rising making it hard to shop for items.

“I would go so far as to say it is a breach of children’s human rights and a national scandal that Midlothian is not providing balanced and nutritious meals in the way other local authorities are doing.”

ADVERT

At a council meeting last month Midlothian Council’s executive director Kevin Anderson said plans were in place to reintroduce a hot meal option across all ages in October, telling councillors: “It is restricted to a large extent by the school estate and social distancing. There are some restrictions that we still want to apply.”

However councillor Parry said parents whose children qualify for free school meals have received payment to buy packed lunches up to the end of October suggesting the council has missed its deadline.

She raised concerns about the fact only P1 to P4 youngsters were receiving hot school meals across the county while P5 to P7 children entitled to a free meal were receiving payments to buy packed lunches.

Neighbouring East Lothian Council opened its dining halls in primary schools at the start of September but Midlothian primary schools are still serving lunches to P1 to P4 in their classrooms.

Councillor Parry said when she asked officials if money was being saved by not serving hot school meals to older children, she did not receive any “clarity”.

She said: “I would not like to think they are balancing the books over children’s nutritional needs.”

A Midlothian Council spokesperson said moves were underway to reintroduce hot meals for older children.

ADVERT

They said: “The education service is working closely with the council’s catering service on a phased re-opening of our school dining halls after the October break.

“Parents and carers will be informed by their child’s school as to when the school lunch service in dining halls will reopen after the October break.

“Payments will continue to be paid to parents and carers of P5 to P7 pupils eligible for free school meals until the service resumes.

“In the meantime though, P1s to P4s continue to be offered free school lunches, including a hot meal option, which they are having in classrooms.”

Reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Marie Sharp


Harry Potter trolley appears at Waverley train station

Fans will be able to recreate the moment the young wizard discovered Platform 9 ¾.

Premier Communications via Email
Harry Potter: Trolley appears in Edinburgh to celebrate 20 years since the first movie's release.

A magical trolley has appeared at Edinburgh Waverley station to celebrate 20 years since the premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Fans will be able to recreate the moment the young wizard rushes through the magical wall to discover Platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express.

The trolley, which is a symbol of the gateway between the ‘Muggle’ and wizarding world, is usually situated on the concourse of King’s Cross Station and is visited every year by more than two million people.

The installation will be available at Edinburgh Waverley for Harry Potter fans to visit until October 18 before heading to Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin.

ADVERT

Harry Potter fans gathered at the unveiling of the trolley in Edinburgh on Saturday and were delighted to recreate the magical moment for themselves. 

Alex McKenzie, 27, said: “I have been a huge Harry Potter fan from since I can remember so it feels great to be a part of the 20th anniversary celebrations. 

“The trolley is such a classic scene from the films and recreating it here has been magical”

Seven-year-old Jenna Marshall added: “Posing with the trolley was just like I was actually going to go to Hogwarts. I felt so excited, it was so realistic!”

ADVERT

The trolley tour was launched to thank the fan community for their support over the past two decades and help them capture their own version of this iconic moment from the first film.

The official 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone will be celebrated on November 16.


Pensioner dies at scene of early morning house fire

The 79-year-old man died following the blaze on Finavon Terrace, Dundee on Sunday morning.

© Google Maps 2020
Death: Man dies following early morning house fire.

A pensioner has died following a house fire in Dundee.

Emergency services were called to the blaze at a property on Finavon Terrace around 7.20am on Sunday. 

A 79-year-old man died at the scene. 

The Scottish Fire and Rescue service extinguished the fire and enquiries into the cause of the blaze are ongoing. 

ADVERT

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report around 7.20am on Sunday October 17 of a fire at a property in Finavon Terrace, Dundee.

“Emergency services attended. A 79-year-old man sadly died at the scene.

“The fire was extinguished by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and enquiries into the cause of the fire are ongoing.”


Councillors back plans for new service station near A90

The proposed facility near Laurencekirk would feature retail outlets, a restaurant and a hotel.

© Google Maps 2020
Service station: Councillors back plans for the facility near Laurencekirk.

Councillors have backed plans to build a new service station near Laurencekirk, paving the way for the creation of 30 new jobs.

A J Developments had applied to Aberdeenshire Council seeking planning permission in principle for the facility.

The development, to be located next to the A90/A937 junction, is expected to include retail units, a restaurant, a ten-bay petrol station and a 100-bed hotel.

The initial proposal states the site would also feature a children’s play area, toilets and parking as well as charging for electric vehicles.

ADVERT

The development is expected to create 30 new jobs.

The addition of two drive-thru restaurants and a drive-thru coffee shop to the site had also been proposed, however these plans were later removed.

The new development will be constructed separately to the Scottish Government’s A90/A937 Junction Improvement Scheme.

Mearns Community Council supported the application but raised concerns over “safe” pedestrian access to Denlethen Wood and the diversion of vehicles should an accident occur on the A90.

ADVERT

Council planners recommended the plan be approved stating the proposed hotel would “cater for a gap in the current market” following the closure of facilities in and around Laurencekirk over recent years.

They also said the development could be constructed “without detriment” to the character of the surrounding area and would provide “clear public economic benefits” by creating local jobs.

At Tuesday’s meeting councillor George Carr moved a motion in support of the application and said he believes the new facility would help the town and wider area.

He said: “The 100-bed hotel could well be a great advantage for the Mearns, it provides an anchor for people to stop off then forage out to support and enjoy other businesses and communities that would greatly benefit from this development.”

Provost Bill Howatson backed the motion and the committee agreed to refer the application to the Infrastructure Services Committee for determination.

Reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Kirstie Topp


Barclays set to reveal £1.6bn profits with more Covid cash released

The bank set aside £3.7bn as a rainy day fund last year and released £742m earlier this year.

Oli Scarff / Staff via Getty Images
Barclays is set to reveal a rise in profits next week.

Barclays is set to reveal a rise in profits next week driven by a buoyant investment banking division and the release of bad loan provisions set aside due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bank set aside £3.7bn as a rainy day fund last year and released £742m earlier this year. Investors will be looking to see how much more will be released on Thursday as the economy recovers.

Bosses revealed a strong profit rebound when they updated the City on the first six months of the year in July, recording pre-tax profits of £5bn against just £1.3bn in the same period in 2020.

Analysts are expecting the group to post profits of £1.6bn in the three months to October against £1.1bn made a year ago.

ADVERT

Between July and October last year, the bank took further bad loan provisions of £608m to cover itself from any Covid-19 losses.

The City is expecting the release of these funds to provide a boost to profits for the same period this year, although how much remains uncertain.

Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Last year, the group put aside swathes of money in case customers defaulted on payments, but these provisions are being unwound – which helped profits substantially in the first half.

“It’s a short-term tailwind, but one which we think will have continued into this quarter.”

ADVERT

But she warned that low interest rates will continue to drag on the profitability of Barclays’ loans.

Russ Mould and Danni Hewson, financial analysts at AJ Bell, said the performance of the investment bank would also be scrutinised closely by analysts and investors.

They said: “The unit had a good first half, generating £3.4bn of pre-tax profit against £2.2bn in the prior period in 2020, helped by active bond and equity markets, plenty of primary and secondary equity market activity and a good dollop of mergers and acquisitions on top.”

Analysts expect the division to post profits of £1.8bn for the period between July and October.

The pair also said that shareholders will be looking for any update on when Barclays’ chief executive may stand down after churn in the management team in the last year.

They said: “There have been hints that boss Jes Staley may leave by the end of 2021, especially after a reshuffle of management heads at this time a year ago.”

You're up to date

You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?