Alex Salmond inquiry: FM set new harrassment policy after accuser’s ‘disclosure’

ONE of the women who lodged a sexual misconduct complaint against Alex Salmond had earlier made a made a secret “disclosure” to Nicola Sturgeon’s private office.

The First Minister confirmed a new harassment policy should apply to former ministers just 48 hours after her principal private secretary received the sensitive information from a female civil servant.

John Somers met the woman on two consecutive days, and on the third day Sturgeon formally agreed that a new Scottish Government complaints policy to apply to “former ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party”.

Sturgeon said the policy should “not be constrained by the passage of time” and stressed she wanted the “particular aspect” of retrospective coverage included.

The Tories said the timing was “murky” and demanded Sturgeon explain why she hadn’t told parliament about the meetings involving her principal private secretary.

The information, revealed by the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, will fuel suspicions the complaints policy was tailored to fit Salmond, something the government has denied. 

A senior source claimed it was “inconceivable” Sturgeon hadn’t known of a complaint brewing against Salmond when the complaints procedure was signed off.

However the Government denied Somers discussed Ms A’s disclosure with Sturgeon or her chief of staff.

In a letter to the inquiry, deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed that Somers met one of two women who lodged complaints against Salmond in January 2018.

He said Sturgeon’s gatekeeper had met Ms A on November 20 and 21, 2017.

He said: “At the first meeting, Ms A made a disclosure to Mr Somers. No-one else was present at either meeting.”

Swinney, who is not allowed to reveal Ms A’s complaint against Salmond, did not say what the disclosure was. 

The day after the second meeting, 22 November 2017, Somers sent Scottish Government Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans a letter from Sturgeon with her instructions for a new procedure covering harassment complaints.

The work had been underway for several weeks following the #MeToo revelations and complaints of sexual misconduct surfacing against senior politicians at Westminster.

In the letter, Sturgeon made clear she wanted the policy to apply to former, as well as current ministers.

She wrote: “I wanted to make clear that in taking forward your review, and the new arrangements being developed, you should not be constrained by the passage of time. 

“I would like you to consider ways in which we are able to address if necessary any concerns from staff – should any be raised – about the conduct of current Scottish Government Ministers and also former Ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party. 

“While I appreciate that the conduct of former Ministers would not be covered by the current Ministerial Code, I think it fair and reasonable that any complaints raised about their actions while they held office are considered against the standards expected of Ministers. 

“I would be grateful for confirmation that this particular aspect is being included as part of the review you are leading.”  

Although the letter’s text had existed in draft for several days, it was not confirmed until the day after Somers met Ms A a second time.

The insistence on the policy covering former ministers was despite the UK Cabinet Office raising a warning about the idea while it was still in draft form a few days earlier. 

On 17 November 2017, an unidentified person in the Cabinet Office emailed a senior official in the Scottish Government to say they felt “very uncomfortable to be highlighting a process for complaints about Ministers and former ministers”.

Last week, MSPs accused Alex Salmond of holding back information relevant to the inquiry.

READ MORE: Scottish Parliament committee ‘frustrated’ with Alex Salmond

In a letter to Salmond’s lawyer, the committee convenor, Linda Fabiani, says she has been asking for a written account since July. 

“The committee has set numerous deadlines for the submission of the account of the Former First Minister which needs to cover the complaints handling process, the judicial review and the communications that make up the ministerial code phase of the inquiry,” she wrote. 

Salmond is set to appear before the committee next month. 

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