Nicola Sturgeon ‘refutes’ MP’s claims about Alex Salmond rowon March 17, 2021 at 1:51 pm

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The first minister says claims by David Davis are “the latest instalment in Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theory”.

David Davis and Alex Salmond

image copyrightPA Media

Nicola Sturgeon has said she “strongly refutes” allegations by a Conservative MP about her government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis used parliamentary privilege to claim there was a concerted effort in the SNP to encourage women to make complaints.

The first minister rejected this as “the latest instalment in Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theory”.

She said she would leave the Holyrood inquiry to consider the evidence.

Ms Sturgeon was repeatedly asked about the row at her Covid-19 briefing, but said she did not want the briefing to be “sidetracked” from health matters.

The intervention from Mr Davis at Westminster on Tuesday was the latest development in a long-running dispute between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond, her predecessor as first minister and SNP leader.

Mr Salmond took the Scottish government to court in 2018 over its investigation into two internal harassment complaints against him, with the government ultimately conceding ahead of a judicial review that the way it conducted the probe was “unlawful”.

He was later charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, but was cleared of all of the allegations against him after a High Court trial in March 2020.

In his evidence to the Holyrood inquiry that was set up to examine what went wrong with the government investigation, Mr Salmond said there had been a “malicious scheme” among senior SNP figures to damage his reputation in the wake of the judicial review case.

Mr Davis, who is a longstanding friend of Mr Salmond, told the House of Commons on Tuesday evening that he had been passed evidence by a whistleblower, in the form of messages from a senior SNP official.

He read some messages out in the Commons and said they “show that there is a concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints” after the criminal investigation into Mr Salmond had started.

Nicola Sturgeon

image copyrightScottish government

Asked about this on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said she was “not able to add anything” to the evidence she gave in a lengthy session in front of the inquiry earlier this month.

She said: “Other than to say I refute – strongly refute – the suggestions and insinuations from David Davis in the House of Commons last night, I am not going to have this Covid briefing sidetracked by the latest instalment of Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theory.

“I have given eight hours of evidence to the parliamentary committee looking in to this.

“They are able to assess the evidence – they have a job of work to do and I am going to allow them to do that while I get on with my job, of leading this Covid briefing.”

Mr Davis also told MPs that he had it “on good authority” that there were messages between civil servants “suggesting that the first minister’s chief of staff is interfering in the complaints process against Alex Salmond”.

Asked if she still had full confidence in her chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, Ms Sturgeon replied: “Yes.”

In her evidence to the committee, Ms Sturgeon said claims of a plot against Mr Salmond were “absurd”.

She said her government had made a “very serious error” in its internal investigation process, but said it had nothing to hide and no reason to want to “get” Mr Salmond.

Analysis box by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political editor

David Davis told the Commons an unnamed whistleblower supplied the information he released using the special freedom of speech privileges MPs have.

That a former Conservative minister should do this in apparent sympathy with a former SNP leader and first minister is not as surprising as it might first appear.

Despite their political disagreements, Alex Salmond and David Davis are old friends with Mr Davis appearing as a star guest in Mr Salmond’s show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017.

Many of the messages between senior SNP officials discussing the criminal case against Alex Salmond have already been released to the Holyrood committee of inquiry for consideration.

The BBC understands the document alleging interference by the first minister’s chief of staff in the earlier Scottish government investigation of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond has now been passed to the committee by the Crown Office, which handles prosecutions in Scotland.

MSPs on that committee are currently preparing their report into this saga which is expected to be published next week, just before Holyrood breaks for the election.

Presentational grey line

Following Mr Davis’s speech, a spokesman for the first minister said that “as with Mr Salmond’s previous claims and cherry picking of messages, the reality is very different to the picture being presented”.

He added: “Every message involving SNP staff has been seen by the committee previously. Their views have been widely reported as dismissive of them.”

The first of a number of expected reports about the row was published on Tuesday, in the form of an independent review of the government’s recently-devised complaints handling process.

Laura Dunlop QC recommended that investigations of harassment complaints against former ministers like Mr Salmond should be independent of government, saying that “the risks of perception of bias, either in favour of or against the person complained about, are obvious”.

The report of the Holyrood inquiry committee and another into whether or not Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code in her dealings with Mr Salmond are expected to be published in the coming week.

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