Top official ‘willing’ to answer Salmond staff question

Permanent secretary Leslie Evans was asked if female staff had been advised not to be alone with the former FM.

Top official ‘willing’ to answer Salmond staff question Getty Images

Scotland’s top civil servant has said she is “very willing” to address the question of if female staff were told to avoid being alone with Alex Salmond when he was first minister.

Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans had initially resisted comment when asked directly about it by MSPs last week.

She was the first to appear before the special Holyrood inquiry looking into how the government handled harassment complaints against Salmond.

In answer to Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Ms Evans said she could not comment on claims that female civil servants were advised not to be alone with the former FM.

Committee convener and SNP MSP Linda Fabiani then prohibited further questioning on the issue.

But in a new letter to Fabiani, the permanent secretary said “contrary to some media reports, I am very willing to write to the committee to address this issue”.

It comes after criticism from opposition parties over the initial blocking of an answer.

The claim about female civil servants was first made during Salmond’s criminal trial at the High Court in March, where he was cleared of all charges of sexual offences.

Prosecutors said senior civil servants had ordered women working in Salmond’s team to avoid being left alone with him, even changing rotas to ensure it.

Alex Salmond with his lawyer after he was cleared of all charges at the High Court in March. (Getty Images)Getty Images

Ms Evans wrote: “I thought it would also be useful to take this opportunity, in the light of extensive media coverage, to offer a comment in relation to my response to Mr Fraser’s question on whether ‘female civil servants were advised not to be alone in the company of the former first minister’ and your decision to disallow that question. 

“I fully appreciate you will have had reasons, based on the committee’s remit and the various legal restrictions in place, for disallowing that line of questioning. 

“However, I would like to make clear that – contrary to some media reports – I am very willing to write to the committee to address this issue.” 

Challenged by Fraser on the issue at First Minister’s Questions last week, Nicola Sturgeon said the committee was “perfectly entitled” to pursue the question.

The First Minister added she wasn’t personally aware of any policy to prevent female staff from being alone with her predecessor.

Fraser has called for Ms Evans to come before the committee in person again.

Responding to her letter, the Tory MSP said: “Leslie Evans has certainly changed her tune since she refused to answer my question last week. 

“It appears that pressure from the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish public have convinced the SNP government that they need to be far more honest and upfront about what they knew and when. 

“But we don’t need Leslie Evans to merely write to the committee.

“Given her attempt to dodge the question at the first time of asking, it is only right that she now appears before the inquiry again, as soon as possible, to face the scrutiny she avoided the first time.”

The inquiry was set up after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with two complaints against Salmond was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former first minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The complaints were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, the claims triggered Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former first minister, and ultimately, his High Court trial.

Supporters of the ex-SNP leader believe there was a conspiracy against him among party and government officials.

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