Stur­geon refers her­self to ethics panel over Salmond case

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MARTIN WIL­LIAMS

THE First Min­is­ter has re­ferred her­self to an in­de­pen­dent min­is­te­rial ethics panel over her ac­tions in the Alex Salmond sex­ual harass­ment case.

Ni­cola Stur­geon’s move fol­lows her ad­mis­sion she made phone calls and took meet­ings with the for­mer first min­is­ter while he was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over sex­ual harass­ment al­le­ga­tions made by two staff.

She ad­mits she met her pre­de­ces­sor on three oc­ca­sions and spoke to him twice on the phone after he be­came the sub­ject of the al­le­ga­tions in Jan­uary last year.

Scot­land’s high­est civil court, the Court of Ses­sion, ruled last Tues­day that the han­dling of the al­le­ga­tions against Mr Salmond were un­law­ful.

Scot­tish Labour leader Richard Leonard ac­cused Ms Stur­geon last week of breach­ing the min­is­te­rial code after she ad­mit­ted at First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions and then later to re­porters that she had failed to tell Scot­tish civil ser­vants Mr Salmond had met her at her home on April 2 to tell her about the Gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It comes as it emerged the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is at the cen­tre of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion over the leak of highly-sen­si­tive al­le­ga­tions re­lat­ing to

the sex­ual mis­con­duct case. In a let­ter to the ex-first min­is­ter’s team, the In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice wrote that it ap­pears an of­fence may have been com­mit­ted over the unau­tho­rised dis­clo­sure to a tabloid news­pa­per.

It was fur­ther claimed Scot­land’s top civil ser­vant Les­lie Evans, who was in charge of the in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr Salmond, is likely to the first ca­su­alty in the fall­out from the court rul­ing.

And Kevin Pringle, a for­mer ad­viser to Ms Stur­geon and Mr Salmond, said the First Min­is­ter should “lead the charge” for an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry cov­er­ing the con­duct of min­is­ters and of­fi­cials.

Ms Stur­geon in­sisted she had acted “ap­pro­pri­ately and in good faith through­out” and com­plied with the Min­is­te­rial Code at all times.

She said: “How­ever, I have re­flected care­fully and un­der­stand it is also im­por­tant for Par­lia­ment and the wider pub­lic to be as­sured of that. I have there­fore de­cided to re­fer the mat­ter for con­sid­er­a­tion by one or both of the in­de­pen­dent ad­vis­ers on the Min­is­te­rial Code.

“It is in the in­ter­ests of the women who have com­plained that the on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions are al­lowed to con­tinue with­out any risk of prej­u­dice. That must be the pri­or­ity for ev­ery­one. Ques­tions have been raised about my meet­ings and tele­phone calls with Alex Salmond dur­ing the Gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the com­plaints which were made.”

Op­po­si­tion par­ties had been call­ing for the FM to make the re­fer­ral to the watch­dog, with Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive deputy leader Jack­son Car­law de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion as “a sham­bles” dur­ing FMQS on Thurs­day.

Ms Stur­geon stated the com­plaints made against her pre­de­ces­sor could not be ig­nored. She ex­plained: “The in­de­pen­dent ad­vis­ers will now be con­sulted on their pre­cise re­mit and ad­vice will also be sought on how to en­sure there is no risk of prej­u­dice to the on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The re­mit will be pub­lished in due course. The fact re­mains that at the cen­tre of this is­sue are two women whose com­plaints could not be swept un­der the car­pet.”

Mr Leonard said Ms Stur­geon had “done the right thing” in re­fer­ring her­self un­der the Min­is­te­rial Code and called for a full in­quiry. He said: “Trans­parency is now ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial in or­der for the pub­lic to have con­fi­dence in the First Min­is­ter and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.”

„ Kevin Pringle: FM should ‘lead the charge’ for in­de­pen­dent probe.

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