Alex Salmond complainers ‘reluctant’ to go to the police
The two women in the Alex Salmond case were “reluctant” to go to the police and “concerned” about the impact that might have on them and others, MSPs investigating the Scottish Government handling of complaints against the former first minister have been told.
“Would it be fair to say the complainants were reluctant themselves to report to the police?” Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asked Judith Mackinnon, the Scottish Government’s head of people advice.
“I think you could say that. I don't think that had been their intention, when they initially had come forward, to do that,” said Mackinnon, who carried out the investigation into the complaints.
Giving evidence to the inquiry into the Scottish Government handling of harassment complaints, the senior civil servant said she had been asked to “sound out” the complainers about their feelings on reporting their complaints to the police.
Mackinnon told the committee: “So, at the end of July 2018, after I had submitted the final IO [investigating officer] report to the Permanent Secretary, who was the decision maker, I was asked to sound out how the complainers felt about the Scottish Government potentially reporting the matter to the police.
“So, I did that, and I spoke to both complainers and they had questions, mainly about what the next steps would be, what a police process might entail, what would be expected of them, etc.
“So, I contacted one of those [police] officers who I had met previously [to discuss the handling of sexual harassment complaints in a general sense], and again, it wasn't case specific, but I was asking her to help me be able to feed back to those individuals about what they could expect as part of a police process.”
SNP MSP Maureen Watt asked Mackinnon if she thought it was “appropriate” that the Scottish Government reported to complaints to the police rather than suggesting the women report them to the police themselves.
“A third party reporting a matter to the police seems a bit odd,” she said.
Mackinnon said the Scottish Government’s procedure allowed for both.
She said the decision for the Scottish Government was “clearly set out”, but one of the reasons for speaking to the complainers was for their views to be taken into account.
Asked about the same issues in a later session of the committee, Scottish Government director of people Nicola Richards said the women were “concerned” about the Scottish Government going to police and what the effect of that would be.
She told MSPs: “I think it was very clear that it was not their wish, not their preference.
“It had not been, I think, where they had begun.
“I think they fully understood and we were always clear that it might be a judgement as an organisation we felt we had no choice but to refer the matter to the police, and they fully understood that.
“But to me, my role in it was to just accurately convey back the views of the complainers and I think they were concerned.
“They were concerned about the impact on them, the potential impact on witnesses and others brought into that process and they were concerned by the potential loss of anonymity and confidentiality that might come from that.”
But for a public authority to withhold that information from the police would also be very difficult, Richards said.
“I think it probably goes beyond the procedure, that duty on public authorities to consider if they become aware of a potential criminal act, that they would alert the police to that.
“I remember discussions and precedents that were discussed, for example, for universities where they may become aware of a potential sexual assault occurring between their students, for example, and they have to come to the conclusion that they will pass that information to the police, even if that's against the wishes of the individual.
“So, I think for most public authorities, it's very challenging, should you become aware of the credible risk that a criminal act may have taken place, to withhold that and to not share that with the police I think would probably have been a very, very difficult thing to have done.”