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Scottish Government shared 'as much material as possible' with harassment committee

David Anderson/Holyrood

Scottish Government shared 'as much material as possible' with harassment committee

The Scottish Government has shared "as much material as possible" with the committee investigating the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond, the Permanent Secretary has said.

Leslie Evans gave evidence to the first Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints this year, in a near three-hour meeting which was held remotely.

In her opening statement, she said 598 documents had been provided, totalling more than 1900 pages and 19 hours of evidence from civil service witnesses.

She said: "What the Scottish Government can share, it has. We have followed through on the deputy first minister’s commitment, in his letter of 26 October, to provide the committee with as much material as possible to aid its deliberations."

Evans added: "In addition, the Scottish Government has taken the unprecedented step of arranging confidential access for committee members to the summary of legal advice ahead of the decision to concede the Judicial Review on a single ground of a potential perception of bias."

The comments followed criticism from Liberal-Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who had already accused the Scottish Government of undermining the committee's "ability to effectively question the Permanent Secretary".

Cole-Hamilton had been referring to legal papers provided, which he described as "wholly unhelpful".

"It has undermined our ability to effectively question the Permanent Secretary," he told the committee.

"I think the government has behaved outrageously and with contempt to the Scottish Parliament and we will visit this again in the chamber if needs be.

"But we might as well be asking Leslie Evans what she received for Christmas, for all we will learn as a result of the redacted and wholly unhelpful document we've been presented with."

The Scottish Parliament committee is tasked with figuring out what went wrong with the government’s investigation into harassment complaints against former first minister Salmond.

In January 2019, the Scottish Government admitted in court during a Judicial Review that it had not followed the correct procedures, collapsing the case on the first day.

Judge Lord Pentland subsequently said that the government’s internal probe had been “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair” and had been “tainted with apparent bias”.

In the aftermath, the Scottish Government had to pay Salmond £512,250 in legal costs.

At today's meeting, Evans said: "It was right to take these complaints seriously and to investigate them fairly. It was right to defend our actions in doing so in court. Doing nothing was not an option. 

"Indeed, convener, if that had been the decision, it would have been strongly and justifiably criticised."

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