The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)

Se­quel grad­u­ally un­folds

- Corruption · Crime · Politics · Scottish Government · Scotland · Glasgow · Aberdeenshire · Scottish National Party · Scottish Parliament

process was un­fair and launched a ju­di­cial re­view against the gov­ern­ment he once led. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment had in­tended to fight Mr Sal­mond in the courts, but be­fore the case went to a full hear­ing it ad­mit­ted it had acted un­law­fully. Lord Pent­land de­scribed the gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion as “tainted with ap­par­ent bias”.

The gov­ern­ment had breached its own pro­ce­dures by ap­point­ing an of­fi­cial, Ju­dith MacK­in­non, to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that was sup­posed to be in­de­pen­dent, even though she had al­ready met both com­plainants. Af­ter his civil court vic­tory, Mr Sal­mond called on Ms Evans to re­sign, ar­gu­ing she bore ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for the botched in­ves­ti­ga­tion as Scot­land’s most se­nior civil ser­vant.

The ac­tions taken by Ms Evans and Ms MacK­in­non, who is also ex­pected to give ev­i­dence, will be part of the Holy­rood in­quiry, as will ques­tions about why the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s new com­plaints pro­ce­dure was ap­plied ret­ro­spec­tively to for­mer min­is­ters.

Af­ter a long de­lay caused by the coro­n­avirus cri­sis and Mr Sal­mond’s crim­i­nal case, the com­mit­tee will meet this week to deal with ad­min­is­tra­tive de­tails. Mem­bers will call for the pub­lic ev­i­dence ses­sions to be at­tended by wit­nesses in per­son in the Holy­rood cham­ber, de­spite the coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions. MSPs on the com­mit­tee be­lieve vir­tual ses­sions would prevent the foren­sic cros­sex­am­i­na­tion of wit­nesses.

There will also be dis­cus­sions about what writ­ten ev­i­dence is re­quired be­fore wit­nesses give oral ev­i­dence over six to eight weeks from Septem­ber.

A fo­cal point is likely to be when Ms Stur­geon is called to give ev­i­dence about dis­cus­sions she had with Mr Sal­mond about the com­plaints made against him.

Ms Stur­geon had con­ver­sa­tions with her pre­de­ces­sor on five oc­ca­sions af­ter the orig­i­nal com­plaints had been made.

Th­ese con­ver­sa­tions in­cluded two meet­ings in Ms Stur­geon’s house in Glas­gow. She has told re­porters that her hus­band, Mr Mur­rell, was aware of the meet­ings with Mr Sal­mond in the fam­ily home, but was un­aware of the sub­ject mat­ter.

Th­ese meet­ings and phone calls are also the sub­ject of a sec­ond in­quiry into whether they amount to a breach of the min­is­te­rial code by Ms Stur­geon.

When Ms Stur­geon dis­closed to par­lia­ment her five con­ver­sa­tions with Mr Sal­mond, her op­po­nents were quick to sug­gest that she had breached the min­is­te­rial code, the code of con­duct for se­nior politi­cians in gov­ern­ment. It states meet­ings on of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment busi­ness have to be set up through the gov­ern­ment of­fice and that de­tailed records need to be made of those con­tacts.

It adds: “If min­is­ters meet ex­ter­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions or in­di­vid­u­als and find them­selves dis­cussing of­fi­cial busi­ness with­out an of­fi­cial present – for ex­am­ple, at a party con­fer­ence, so­cial oc­ca­sion or on hol­i­day – any sig­nif­i­cant con­tent (such as sub­stan­tive is­sues re­lat­ing to gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions or con­tracts) should be passed back to their pri­vate of­fices as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter the event.”

In Jan­uary last year Ms Stur­geon told Holy­rood that she did not in­form civil ser­vants of her April 2 meet­ing with Mr Sal­mond un­til two months af­ter the event.

She also re­vealed Mr Sal­mond also called her on April 23 and a sec­ond meet­ing was ar­ranged in Aberdeen in June be­fore the SNP con­fer­ence.

On June 6 Ms Stur­geon fi­nally wrote to Ms Evans to tell her about her meet­ing and that she knew about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr Sal­mond. The fol­low­ing day she kept her ap­point­ment in Aberdeen with Mr Sal­mond.

On July 14 the pair met again in Ms Stur­geon’s Glas­gow home. An­other phone call be­tween the two politi­cians was made on July 18.

Af­ter pres­sure from op­po­si­tion,

Ms Stur­geon re­ferred her­self to the ad­vis­ers who reg­u­late the min­is­te­rial code, de­spite her in­sis­tence that she had acted within the rules.

Since then it emerged dur­ing Mr Sal­mond’s trial that his for­mer chief of staff, Ge­off Aberdein, met Ms Stur­geon in her Scot­tish Par­lia­ment of­fice in March 2018, days be­fore the first con­firmed meet­ing.

Mr Aberdein’s meet­ing is likely to come up at the Holy­rood in­quiry as well as this one, which is over­seen by the in­de­pen­dent ad­vis­ers for­mer Lord Ad­vo­cate Dame Elish An­gi­olini QC and James Hamil­ton, the for­mer Ir­ish di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions.

The scope of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion is much nar­rower than the par­lia­men­tary one and it will be con­ducted in pri­vate. Mr Sal­mond him­self was no stranger to such in­quiries. He was re­ferred to the ad­vis­ers on six oc­ca­sions, but was never found to have breached the code.

This will be con­ducted in pri­vate and is an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but has been held up by the Covid cri­sis. A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said Ms Evans had made clear this should take place “as soon as the time and re­sources be­ing de­voted to re­spond­ing to the cur­rent health emer­gency al­low”.

 ??  ?? NOT GUILTY: Alex Sal­mond speaks out­side the High Court in Ed­in­burgh af­ter he was cleared of at­tempted rape and a se­ries of sex­ual as­saults
NOT GUILTY: Alex Sal­mond speaks out­side the High Court in Ed­in­burgh af­ter he was cleared of at­tempted rape and a se­ries of sex­ual as­saults
 ??  ?? SNP MSP Linda Fabi­ani
SNP MSP Linda Fabi­ani
 ??  ?? Ni­cola Stur­geon with Les­lie Evans, left
Ni­cola Stur­geon with Les­lie Evans, left

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