Alex Salmond settlement: Labour slams Scottish Government 'incompetence'

The Scottish Government displayed "breathtaking levels of incompetence and bullishness" by refusing to settle at an earlier date the civil case brought by Alex Salmond over harassment complaints, Scottish Labour has claimed.

Alex Salmond was found not guilty earlier this year.
Alex Salmond was found not guilty earlier this year.

Court papers released by the Scottish Government on Friday suggest its lawyers informed the former first minister's legal team in early November 2018 that its investigating officer into the sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Salmond had prior contact with two complainants.

The Scottish Government conceded the case in early January 2019, when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans made public statements.

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The former first minister was awarded £512,000 in damages as a result of the decision, after the court ruled the Scottish Government's actions were "unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias".

The court documents have been submitted to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

The Open Record, which was released on Friday after legal wrangling over its disclosure, says in the statement of facts from Mr Salmond's legal team: "The appointment of the IO (investigating officer) was in contravention of the Procedure and that was not disclosed to the petitioner until 5 November 2018."

This is challenged by the Scottish Government's legal team, which later in the document admits that prior to her appointment as investigating officer Judith Mackinnon had "involvement and contact" with the complainants.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who sits on the inquiry committee, said: "By refusing to concede to the petition for months after admitting that Ms Mackinnon had been in contact with complainants, the Scottish Government has displayed breathtaking levels of incompetence and bullishness.

"This investigation was doomed from the beginning, with roles being blurred and decisions being taken that opened the process up to legitimate allegations of bias.

"What is also clear is that the culture of secrecy, that the Scottish Parliament committee investigating this issue has had to put up with over the last few months, was alive and well during this investigation, with correspondence and documents being handed over begrudgingly, if at all.

"The botched judicial review left the public purse at least half a million pounds lighter and preoccupied civil servants and court officials for months.

"That the Scottish Government refused to concede to the petition despite clear breaches in protocol demonstrates that no price was too high to pay to cover up their incompetence and secrecy."

Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault, indecent exposure and attempted rape at the High Court in Edinburgh in March.