Sturgeon’s top mandarin apologises for ‘failure’ in botched Holyrood harassment probe

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Scotland’s most senior civil servant Leslie Evans also said that investigating harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond was the “right thing to do”. It comes after Edinburgh’s Court of Session ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints against the former SNP first minister was “unlawful”.

At Holyrood’s Committee of the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Ms Evans was the first civil servant to appear before the Holyrood committee looking at the way the Scottish Government handled claims against Mr Salmond.

Ms Evans, who is the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, said: “When complaints were raised it would have been unconscionable, and a failure in our duty of care, not to investigate those complaints.”

But she stressed it was “accepted at judicial review that one part of our procedure should have been applied differently.”

She said: “I apologise unreservedly to all concerned for this procedural failure.”

At Holyrood’s Committee of the Handling of Harassment Complaints, Ms Evans was the first civil servant to appear before the committee looking at the way the Scottish Government handled claims against Mr Salmond.

Ms Evans, who is the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, said: “When complaints were raised it would have been unconscionable, and a failure in our duty of care, not to investigate those complaints.”

But she stressed it was “accepted at judicial review that one part of our procedure should have been applied differently.”

She said: “I apologise unreservedly to all concerned for this procedural failure.”

Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 sexual offences in March at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Holyrood’s Harassment Complaints Committee had asked for documents that show the legal advice given to the Scottish Government about the matter.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said this week that allowing the legal advice to be made public could damage future consultations with legal professionals, as they may not be “full and frank”.

The Committee inquiry is completely separate to the criminal trial which acquitted Salmond on all charges earlier this year.

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Linda Fabiani MSP, Convenor of the Committee, said: “The committee will not revisit the separate matter of the criminal proceedings brought against Mr Salmond, nor reinvestigate or consider the substance of the complaints originally made to the Scottish Government.”

Speaking today, Ms Evans stressed that “the Scottish Government has been on a journey of cultural change since 2015 to ensure the organisation is more open, capable and responsive.”

She added: “As permanent secretary, I have led a focus on equality, inclusion and wellbeing, including addressing bullying and harassment.

“This is still work in progress but there is evidence of improvement.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP asked Ms Evans at the inquiry today: “The optics of this are not great. Was this targeted policy which only applied to harassment complaints against former ministers engineered to fit any complaint? Was it designed to get Alex Salmond?”

Ms Evans responded: “Absolutely not.”

Ms Evans also addressed a submission to the Committee from the FDA union, which represents civil servants, raised concerns about “bullying behaviour” within the Scottish Government and also about the “the culture within the former first minister’s office”.

Responding to the claims, the Permanent Secretary said: “I don’t recognise the term ‘culture of fear’, it is not one I would use. The most recent snapshot of how the organisation is feeling is very different to what the FDA has described in historical terms.

“I am pleased but not complacent about that. We have compelling data to show people are willing to come forward now.”

 

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