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Sturgeon's chief of staff attended first Salmond meeting

The First Minister told MSPs that Liz Lloyd attended the meeting on April 2 last year.

Nicola Sturgeon: Chief of staff Liz Lloyd (left) present at Salmond meeting.
Nicola Sturgeon: Chief of staff Liz Lloyd (left) present at Salmond meeting. PA

Nicola Sturgeon's chief of staff was present at the meeting where Alex Salmond first told her he was being investigated by the Scottish Government, she told MSPs Thursday.

The First Minister said government-employed special adviser Liz Lloyd attended the meeting on April 2, which took place at her home in Glasgow.

Salmond - who also had a representative with him - told Sturgeon about the government's investigation into two sexual harassment complaints.

Sturgeon said this was the first she knew of the investigation, because of government procedure which places official complaints in the power of the permanent secretary - the country's top civil servant.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Sturgeon said repeatedly she did not intervene or seek to influence the investigation.

She added she was "so anxious" not do so that she did not inform the permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, of her knowledge of the probe until Salmond had requested a second meeting about it.

Opposition party leaders pressed the First Minister on why the first meeting was not treated as a government meeting and the details discussed recorded.

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

It comes after the Scottish Government was forced to settle a legal case brought by the former first minister over its handling of the sexual misconduct claims.

The Court of Session ruled the government's actions were "unfair" and "tainted with apparent bias" after it emerged the person appointed to investigate the complaints had had prior contact with the two women who had made them.

Following the outcome of the case on Tuesday, Sturgeon told MSPs in a ministerial statement that she had had three meetings and two phone calls with her predecessor concerning the probe.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1434412-sturgeon-i-haven-t-spoken-to-salmond-since-last-july/ | default

Interim Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said those five conversations amounted to the First Minister becoming involved in the investigation.

"Meeting the subject of a complaint is getting involved in my book, First Minister, and I am surprised that you don't appreciate that as well," he said.

The First Minister said the discussions between her and Salmond were not Scottish Government business, but SNP business.

Carlaw replied: "Her position appears to be a meeting between the First Minister of the government and the former first minister of the government, about a government investigation, involving two government employees was not government business. Really, how?"

On further questioning from the Tory MSP, Sturgeon said her chief of staff Liz Lloyd accompanied her to the first one, adding that Mr Salmond was also represented.

As a special adviser, the First Minister said Ms Lloyd has "the ability to assist me in party matters".

She added: "The fact that I had no role in the government process is why it wouldn't have been appropriate for the meetings to be government meetings.

"I have responsibilities as party leader, as other leaders do."

"On Tuesday the First Minister invited us to judge her decision to hold a serious of meetings and discussions about these cases, with Alex Salmond. First Minister, that was a grave error of judgement but it was also a clear potential breach of the ministerial code of conduct."
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard

She told MSPs: "I acted appropriately. I absolutely accept there are others who think I made wrong judgements along the way, and that is absolutely their entitlement.

"But I made the judgements that I made, I will stand by and defend those judgements, and I will be absolutely adamant that I did not intervene in this process and it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to have done so."

The First Minister added: "Since I found out about the investigation I have tried to do the right thing in a situation which, no matter what happened, was never going to be easy for me.

"The most important thing here has always been, and continues to be, the complaints that were made and the people who made those complaints."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard joined Carlaw in calling for a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of the probe, saying "serious questions do need to be answered."

Leonard said Sturgeon's meetings with Salmond, and the decision not to treat them as government meetings or minute them, was a "grave error of judgement" and also a "clear potential breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

He continued: "After the events of this week, people need to have trust and confidence in the system and that's why the First Minister herself should back a full parliamentary inquiry.

"It's why she should refer herself today to the panel of independent advisers on the Scottish ministerial code."

It comes after Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) commissioner Daren Fitzhenry was questioned on the matter earlier on Thursday before Holyrood's public audit and post-legislative scrutiny committee.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1407965-scottish-government-s-handling-of-foi-under-scrutiny/ | default

He told committee members that any important government meeting not recorded amounted to a "lack of information" and was not ideal.

Responding to Leonard, the First Minister said: "It is entirely for parliament, rightly and properly for parliament to decide what it wants to inquire into and look into, and ministers and government officials will, as they do in all inquiries, co-operate fully with that."

She pledged she would consider any request made, including that she refer herself to the panel which polices the Scottish ministerial code.

Sturgeon added: "The fact of the matter is complaints came forward. The permanent secretary was right to investigate those.

"The question of whether behaviour is criminal is a matter for the police, that's not for me to comment."

A police investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Salmond remains ongoing.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1434441-sturgeon-quizzed-over-salmond-meetings-during-investigation/ | default

Analysis by STV's Holyrood editor Colin Mackay

That was probably the toughest time I've seen for Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions. 

This is clearly uncomfortable for her on so many levels - she is a long-term friend and political ally of Alex Salmond, so these complaints are difficult for her. 

She wanted the Scottish Government to lead by example on equality and tackling abuse in the #MeToo campaign - her senior civil servants have messed that up. 

And when you get into the realms of who said what to whom, when - as we did at FMQs - things can get very complicated and today it drew in some of her closest advisers. 

Now, if all the opposition parties agree, there could well be a parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of its own inquiry. 

All this against the backdrop of the police inquiry into allegations Alex Salmond denies - that is now the key to this whole thing.

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