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Leslie Evans apologises for giving wrong information to harassment inquiry

Leslie Evans - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

Leslie Evans apologises for giving wrong information to harassment inquiry

The Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government has apologised for giving wrong information to the inquiry into the handling of complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday, Leslie Evans said she was unaware of Scottish Government special advisers having played a role in the government’s response to the judicial review brought by Salmond.

She said she would not see a “natural role” for a special adviser in that.

However, in a letter to the committee looking into the handling of the complaints, Evans corrected her evidence, saying Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, did take part in meetings about the case. 

A freedom of information response last year listed 17 meetings at which lawyers involved in the judicial review met with Sturgeon or senior staff, with Lloyd present at three meetings in October and November 2018.

Evans said she had forgotten about the meetings when giving evidence.

In the letter, which was published yesterday on the committee’s website, Evans wrote: “My answer on this point in oral evidence to the committee was based upon my best recollection at the time but I accept that the record shows that the information above is correct.

“I apologise for not having that level of detail at the front of my mind in answering the point put to me.”

The cross-party inquiry is looking at the Scottish Government botched handling of sexual harassment complaints made against Salmond in 2018. 

A judicial review brought by Salmond concluded that the investigation had been “tainted by apparent bias” and led to around £500,000 of Salmond’s costs having to be paid by the Scottish Government.

Responding to the Evans’ letter, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who is a member of the inquiry committee, said: “This letter from the Permanent Secretary, in which she admits that she misled the committee yesterday, is truly remarkable.

“Despite stating that she did not see ‘any natural role’ to be played by advisers in the legal process, it is now clear that the Chief of Staff was in attendance with the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary.

“Time and time again this committee has been faced with evasion and secrecy from witnesses. This must end.

“All who are brought before the committee must be straightforward and honest. We simply cannot have selective memory loss and evasion inhibiting our vital work any longer.”

Separately, Nicola Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, who is the chief executive of the SNP, has denied he knew anything about the complaints until they were made public in August 2018.

In a letter to the committee, Murrell said he was aware of the meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond at their home on 2 April and 14 July 2018 and he “had the sense that something serious was being discussed”, but the First Minister told him she couldn’t talk about the details.

“The nature of Nicola’s job means that when she tells me she can’t discuss something, I don’t press it,” he said.

No action was taken by the SNP in relation to the complaints before the matter became public in August 2018, he added.

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