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by Louise Wilson
29 October 2020
Third Scottish Government official corrects evidence given to harassment inquiry

Third Scottish Government official corrects evidence given to harassment inquiry

The civil servant who was appointed investigating officer for the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond has become the third government official to correct information given to MSPs examining the process.

Judith MacKinnon, head of people advice at the Scottish Government, told the Holyrood committee tasked with investigating the botched handling of harassment complaints on Tuesday that she did not tell either of the complainants she had prior contact with that she would be appointed investigating officer.

But in an email to one of the complainants, Ms B, containing information about making a formal complaint, MacKinnon wrote: “We would then interview you (likely to be led by myself – could be by phone) to take a formal statement, and other individuals you may name in your statement.”

She has now written to the committee to correct the record.

The committee is investigating the events which led to the Court of Session ruling the probe as unlawful and resulted in the government having to pay Salmond over £500,000 in legal expenses.

MacKinnon’s prior contact with the complainants before being appointed investigating officer was the reason the process was deemed unlawful, as it violated the government’s internal procedure for the handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers.

When asked by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie whether she had told “either of the complainants that you were going to be appointed the investigating officer before the appointment actually happened”, MacKinnon replied: “I did not. I did not tell them that. At that point in time, I did not know that that would be the case.”

She did however confirm Ms A, the other complainant, had been told she would likely lead the investigation by Nicola Richards, the Scottish Government's director of people.

The day after making these statements, MacKinnon wrote to the committee indicating she had “inadvertently provided an incorrect response” to the question.

She said: “I provided Ms B with advice about the process that would apply if a formal complaint was received. As part of that advice, I indicated that she would be interviewed and that the interview was 'likely to be led by myself'.

“Although I did not explicitly say that I was to be appointed as the investigating officer, I gave a clear indication that it was likely that I would be.

“Please accept my apologies for inadvertently providing an incorrect answer and I would be grateful if the record could be updated to reflect the correct information provided in this letter.”

Speaking afterwards, Baillie said it was "shocking" that civil servants had failed to provide "candid answers". She said: “Some suffer from selective amnesia and others have to subsequently correct their evidence to the committee because they got it wrong the first time. 

“The Scottish Government needs to start treating this inquiry seriously.” 

The government’s director of communications, Barbara Allison, previously wrote to the committee to confirmed she did receive a text message from Permanent Secretary Lesley Evans on the day Salmond won the judicial review, despite previously denying knowledge of the message.

She told MSPs again on Tuesday that she did not recollect receiving the message, adding she “must have deleted” it from her mobile phone.

In August, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans apologised for providing wrong information on the role special advisers had played in the government’s response to the judicial review.

In addition, another government official, James Hynd, wrote to the committee to clarify  evidence he believed to have been "misrepresented". He made clear he was "not aware of any rumours about ‘sexually inappropriate behaviour’ on the part of Mr Salmond or other Ministers".

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