Over £50,000 spent to help officials prepare for Salmond probe hearings

More than £50,000 has been spent to help civil servants prepare for appearances before a Holyrood probe into the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, it has emerged.

Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government
Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government

The money was spend by the Scottish Government on “external assistance” to help senior officials get ready for their appearances at the specially convened committee of MSPs.

The Scottish Government has insisted that staff were not "coached" for their appearances before the committee. Nicola Sturgeon said she was unaware of the funding during today's daily Covid-19 briefing.

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Documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph newspaper through Freedom of Information shows that by early November, £54,378 had been spent on external assistance to help senior civil servants get ready for appearances at the inquiry.

It comes amid complaints from committee convener Linda Fabiani about a lack of co-operation and information being provided by the Scottish Government.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the inquiry said: “People are entitled to know how this public money was spent and the First Minister’s claims to not know are astonishing.”

He added: “When witnesses come before any Holyrood committee all that is expected is honesty and transparency. Coaching them in advance is unnecessary.

“Many have had to later correct their evidence and if that’s any indication of the worth of the expensive preparation paid for by taxpayers, the SNP should ask for a refund.

"The significant amount of time spent preparing by these civil servants is also of concern. Their focus should have been on fighting the pandemic."

The preparation help was given by six senior civil servants involved in the botched inquiry, including Leslie Evans, permanent secretary of the Scottish government.

Mr Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish government in two years ago over its handling of complaints made against him. He was later cleared of all 13 sexual assault charges at his trial, fol lowing a separate criminal probe.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "It is completely untrue that witnesses have been coached. Civil servants prepared for and provided over 21 hours of oral evidence on complex and historical events, in line with the data protection, confidentiality and legal restrictions that apply."

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