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Nicola Sturgeon apologises to women ‘failed’ by botched Salmond investigation

Adam Forrest and Zoe Tidman
·6-min read
Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the committee (PA)
Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the committee (PA)

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she “deeply regrets” her government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond, apologising to the two women who were “failed” by the botched probe.

But when asked if she owed the Scottish people an apology for having previously told them they should trust Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon said she “trusted him” and refused to “apologise for the behaviour of somebody else”.

“I think the only person who should apologise for behaviour on his part – which he was asked to do on Friday and failed to do – is Alex Salmond,” she told a Holyrood committee on Wednesday.

The SNP leader defended herself against accusations by her predecessor that she misled parliament during her opening statement in the morning.

“I’ve never claimed in this or anything else to be infallible. I have searched my soul on all of this many, many times over. It may very well be that I didn’t get everything right, that’s for others to judge,” she said.

Follow live: Nicola Sturgeon says she has ‘searched my soul’ during Salmond inquiry

Denying her former mentor’s allegations of a “concerted” plot to bring him down, Ms Sturgeon said: “I feel I must rebut the absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond. That claim is not based in any fact.”

She insisted she “would never have wanted to ‘get’ Alex Salmond”, and that she had “no motive, intention, desire” for such action against her predecessor.

Criticising Mr Salmond’s actions, Ms Sturgeon said he had told her about his own inappropriate behaviour with women. “He gave me his account of one of the incidents complained of … What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon added: “That he was acquitted of criminal conduct by a jury is beyond question. But I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate. And yet across six hours of [his] testimony [on 26 February] there was not a single word of regret.”

Giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, she appeared close to tears at points when speaking about her personal relationship with Mr Salmond, who she said had been a “close political colleague” and a “friend” for most of her life.

The first minister said she had “learned things” about him in the past couple of years that has made her “rethink certain things”.

“As I was watching him on Friday lashing out - that’s my words - against us, I don’t know whether he ever reflects on the fact that many of us - including me - feel very let down by him,” she said. “That’s a matter of deep personal pain and regret for me.”

But while the two had once been the closest of allies, she said he is now angry with her - in part because of her refusal to intervene when the Scottish government was investigating complaints against him.

Defending her government’s probe into Mr Salmond, she said: “As first minister I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.”

She stood by a series of decisions that were made in relation to a judicial review which her government lost, insisting decisions were “legally sound”. She added: “The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.”

The first minister has been grilled by MSPs about the 2018 meetings at which she was first made aware of allegations against her predecessor.

She originally told parliament she became aware of the investigation when Mr Salmond told her at her Glasgow home on 2 April 2018. But she subsequently had to admit to having “forgotten” a meeting four days earlier with Mr Salmond’s aide Geoff Aberdein, during which the investigation was discussed.

Ms Sturgeon said had been left with “a sense of unease” after a media inquiry from Sky News in November 2017, which made her aware “of allegations or concerns about sexually inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond”.

Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the committeePA
Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the committeePA

She added: “Since an approach from Sky News in November 2017 ... I had harboured a lingering suspicion that such issues in relation to Mr Salmond might rear their head. So hearing of a potential issue would not in itself have been a massive shock.”

Despite a Scottish government probe being discussed at her home at the 2 April meeting, Ms Sturgeon insisted the meeting in her home was “firmly in the personal and party space”.

Scotland’s ministerial code states that the basic facts of any government meetings should be recorded, but the meeting at Ms Sturgeon’s home was not recorded.

Ms Sturgeon faced further questions from MSPs about written evidence, released on Tuesday, from the SNP’s former comms director Kevin Pringle and former SNP MSP Duncan Hamilton which appeared to contradict her own previous statements to parliament.

Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond campaigning together in 2015PA
Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond campaigning together in 2015PA

Mr Pringle confirmed Mr Salmond’s assertion that the name of one of the women had been revealed to Mr Salmond’s aide by one of Ms Sturgeon’s staff at the meeting on 29 March.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie asked Ms Sturgeon about the claims the identity of the complainer had been revealed at the March meeting.

The first minister replied: “I wasn’t [at the meeting]. Therefore I cannot give a direct account. What I can say is, the account I have been given, has given me assurances that what is alleged to have happened at didn’t happen in the way that has been described.”

Referring to the senior member of staff accused of revealing the name, Ms Sturgeon: “The clear view of the person being accused of this, is that this didn’t happen.”

Ms Sturgeon also claimed her predecessor would have identified one complainant through his own investigation, and that the other was known to him because he had apologised to her for his actions.

The other he worked out by going through the “Scottish Government Flickr (image-sharing website) account to find out who had been with him on particular days”, according to Ms Sturgeon.

In his written evidence Mr Hamilton substantiated Mr Salmond’s allegation that Ms Sturgeon offered to intervene and mediate in the allegations on 2 April. “My clear recollection is that her words were, ‘If it comes to it, I will intervene’.”

Ms Sturgeon previously told MSPs: “I did not seek to intervene in it at any stage.” On Wednesday morning, the first minister said she had not had any intention of intervening in the investigation process, adding “and I did not”.

She also said she did not know where leaks about the investigation into Mr Salmond to Scotland’s Daily Record came from. “I can tell you they didn’t come from me, or anyone acting on my instruction or request.”

At his testimony last week, Mr Salmond alleged a “malicious” to bring him down. He described a series of WhatsApp messages from senior SNP figures he had seen as “probably the most shocking thing I have seen in my life”.

Some of the messages Mr Salmond was referring to are believed to have been handed to the committee by the Crown Office.

Asked about those messages – including some from her husband, the SNP’s chief executive Peter Murrell –Ms Sturgeon said they had been “twisted” and “taken out of context”. She also referred to them as “bit of gossip about what was going on”.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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