Nicola Sturgeon ‘deeply regrets’ botched handling of Salmond harassment complaints
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to the two women who made complaints against Alex Salmond in her opening statement to the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of them.
She said that the “two women were failed and taxpayers’ money was lost. I deeply regret that.”
Sturgeon also denied the suggestion that any of the actions of the government was part of a conspiracy against the former first minister.
She said: “I must rebut the absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond. That claim is not based in any fact. What happened is this and it is simple.
“A number of women made serious complaints about Alex Salmond’s behaviour. The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.
“As First Minister, I refuse to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.”
She went on the criticise “inappropriate” behaviour to which Salmond allegedly admitted to her in their meeting on 2 April 2018.
She told the committee she had agreed to that meeting because Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had expressed concern about Salmond’s mental health and the possibility of him resigning from the SNP. She said this placed it “firmly in party and personal space” rather than government business.
At the meeting, she said Salmond had given her the letter from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans confirming he was being investigated.
She said: “This letter set out the fact that complaints of sexual harassment had been made against him by two individuals. It made clear that these complaints were being investigated under the procedure adopted at the end of 2017 and it set out the details of what he was alleged to have done.
“Reading this letter is a moment in my life that I will never forget. Although he denied the allegations, he gave me his account of one of the incidents complained of, which he said he had apologised for at the time.
“What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part. Perhaps another reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind.”
She later added: “Alex spoke on Friday about what a nightmare the last couple of years have been for him – and I don’t doubt that. I have thought often about the impact on him. He was someone I cared about for a long time. And maybe that’s why on Friday I found myself searching for any sign, any sign at all, that he recognised how difficult this had been for others too.
“First and foremost, for women who believed his behavour towards them was inappropriate. But also for those of us who have campaigned with him, worked with him, cared for him and considered him a friend, and who now stand unfairly accused of plotting against him.
“That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question. But I know just from what he told me that his behavior was not always appropriate. Yet across six hours of testimony there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even simple acknowledgment of that. I can only hope that in private the reality might be different.”
The First Minister also defended the Scottish Government’s actions in the judicial review brought by Salmond. She insisted the government had followed the legal advice, which at first had suggested it had a good defence but that changed over a two-month period.
She concluded her opening statement saying: “I believe I acted properly and appropriately, and that overall I made the best judgements I could.”