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Sturgeon: I haven't spoken to Salmond since last July

The First Minister addressed MSPs after her government conceded it mishandled complaints.

Nicola Sturgeon has not spoken to her predecessor Alex Salmond since July 2018, she has revealed to MSPs.

In a statement at Holyrood, the First Minister described conversations she had with her predecessor about the Scottish Government's investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

It comes after her government admitted at the Court of Session earlier on Tuesday that it had mishandled two sexual harassment complaints against Salmond made last January.

But Sturgeon refuted as "ludicrous" accusations by the Scottish Conservatives that the legal battle amounted to an "SNP civil war" played out at the taxpayer's expense.

In the Court of Session, the Scottish Government's lawyer admitted it had made a critical mistake and breached its own guidelines.

The investigating officer dealing with the complaints against Salmond had had prior contact with the complainants over the issue, which Sturgeon told MSPs was "entirely legitimate" welfare support and guidance.

However, she reiterated the government's legal position that an "impression of partiality" could have been given as a result of this.

A police investigation into the harassment allegations, which Salmond strongly denies, remains ongoing.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1434392-scottish-government-admits-mishandling-salmond-complaints/ | default

The First Minister also confirmed she had been involved in three meetings and two phone calls with her predecessor concerning the investigation into him.

It follows calls from opposition parties in recent months for Sturgeon to provide full transparency about the details of these conversations.

She said: "I met with him on three occasions: on April 2 last year at my home in Glasgow, on June 7 in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP conference, and at my home on July 14.

"I also spoke with him on the telephone on April 23 and July 18. I have not spoken to Alex Salmond since July 18.

"On April 2, he informed me of the complaints him, which of course, in line with the procedure, the permanent secretary had not done.

"He set out his various concerns about the process.

"In the other contacts he reiterated his concerns about the process and told me about proposals he was making to the Scottish Government for mediation and arbitration."

'What we've witnessed today is deeply disappointing, a questionable investigation, and seemingly an SNP civil war played out at the taxpayer's expense to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs.'
Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw

The First Minister continued: "I was always clear that I had no role in the process and I did not seek to intervene in it at any stage, nor indeed did I feel under any pressure to do so.

"It is deeply regrettable, perhaps that is an understatement, that as a result of a failure of the proper application of one aspect of the procedure, the Scottish Government has had to settle this matter today

"The permanent secretary has already this morning apologised to all involved.

"In echoing that I want to express my regret in particular for the difficult position that the complainants have been placed in.

"I know the permanent secretary has spoken directly to both women.

"I can only imagine how difficult the decision to raise concerns as well as the publicity around this investigation and the judicial review must have been for them in recent months.

"They had every right to expect the process to be robust and beyond reproach in every aspect of it and to reach a lasting conclusion, and I am sorry that on this occasion that has not been the case."

Interim Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said the government had failed to provide basic competence.

He called the phone calls and meetings detailed by the First Minister "inappropriate" in light of the procedure which she outlined in her statement.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1432842-nicola-sturgeon-denies-covering-up-salmond-airport-conduct/ | default

Carlaw said: "Good intentions towards complainants are worth little if the government can't meet basic standards of competence.

"Let's be clear: what we've witnessed today is deeply disappointing, a questionable investigation, and seemingly an SNP civil war played out at the taxpayer's expense to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs."

Sturgeon replied: "I am going to, I hope he will understand, not respond to the more blatant political elements to that because I don't actually think that's appropriate.

"Some of his comments about 'civil war' are simply ludicrous and I don't think if I was to respond on that basis would do justice to the seriousness of the matter at hand."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard hailed the two complainant's "courage" in coming forward.

Leonard said: "It takes unflinching courage to step forward and challenge powerful men and powerful institutions which is why they deserve so much better than this."

He asked: "If this government cannot be trusted to deal competently with a case involving a former first minister of this country, what trust and confidence can other women have in this government's handling of other complaints of harassment?"

The First Minister said she was confident her government's complaints process remained "robust" but accepted it was incumbent on her government to make sure women could come forward with complaints in confidence in future.

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