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Government unable to find source of leak about Alex Salmond harassment complaints

David Anderson/Holyrood

Government unable to find source of leak about Alex Salmond harassment complaints

A Scottish Government investigation into a leak to the media of information relating to harassment complaints against Alex Salmond was unable to find its source, despite only 23 people potentially having access to the material.

In a letter to the Holyrood committee looking at the botched handling of complaints, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said the investigation found “no sign of any communication between media outlets and relevant staff through the Scottish Government IT system”.

Further searches made at the request of the Information Commission’s Office in January 2020 were also unable to identify the source of the leak.

Meanwhile, the committee has warned the former first minister that it would be unable to take oral evidence from him if he could not attend a session before 4 February.

Salmond had offered to give evidence in the week commencing 8 February, but convener Linda Fabiani said there was "no scope" to accomodate this and instead offered a range of dates the week before.

She said: "If you remain unavailable on 2 February, and cannot attend on any of the alternative dates offered in that week, then the Committee regrets that it will not be able to take oral evidence from you. You are of course free to submit further written evidence".

The letter from Evans follows her appearance at the committee last week, where she was asked by independent MSP Andy Wightman how the Daily Record came to be in possession of the information.

The newspaper was the first to publish news of allegations made against the former first minister in August 2018.

Evans told the committee an investigation held between 29 August and 4 September “found no evidence of any civil servant leaking the information” but agreed to provide further information on the remit of that review.

In the letter, she confirmed 23 members of staff “potentially” had access to the relevant information, though the level of access varied.This included staff in her own department, those in the Scottish Government Legal Directorate and a special adviser, she said.

Each member of staff was interviewed and e-mail logs were checked, but the review concluded all information had been handled appropriately.

Evans wrote: “The review concluded that information relating to the original investigation was processed in a controlled and appropriate manner, with all staff within scope of the review complying with relevant information handling procedures and obligations.

“The only exception to this was that one staff member on long-term sick leave, who had had limited access to the relevant information, had not completed GDPR training.

“The forensic searches of Scottish Government corporate systems did not detect any evidence of a data breach, with no sign of any communication between media outlets and relevant staff through the Scottish Government IT system, and no indications of other members of staff seeking to gain unauthorised access to relevant information held on SG systems."

The committee has also written to John Swinney to again seek access to the legal advice received by the government relating to the judicial review.

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