Salmond’s lawyers asked to keep complaints process private, documents reveal

By Neil Pooran and Tom Eden, PA Scotland Political Reporters
·4-min read

Alex Salmond’s legal team repeatedly asked to have the handling of harassment complaints made against him kept private, newly released papers show.

The former first minister’s lawyers requested the process be dealt with by third-party arbitration in correspondence with Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans over several months.

A number of documents produced by Mr Salmond and his team at Levy & McRae solicitors have been released to a Scottish Parliament committee, with 149 pages of partially redacted correspondence published on Tuesday.

They relate to the judicial review of the Scottish Government’s complaints process, which ruled in Mr Salmond’s favour, and his objections to the investigation into sexual harassment complaints that was overseen by Ms Evans.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Emails to Leslie Evans have been published (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

The first email from Levy & McRae to the Permanent Secretary is dated March 16 2018.

It said Mr Salmond was taking legal advice, adding: “We would seek explicit confirmation that no aspect of the investigation, or even the fact of an investigation taking place, will be released under the freedom of information regime.

“We would ask for explicit confirmation that at no stage now, or in the future, will any aspect of this investigation be made public.”

In another email dated March 30 2018, Levy & McRae said they did not have access to the documents and witnesses that formed the basis of the allegations and said some of the claims “contain little or no specification”.

The lawyers offered a process of “mediation” on April 23 that year, whereby an agreed mediator would help to resolve the “impasse”.

They set out a number of objections to the Scottish Government’s investigation, saying it was unfair Mr Salmond had been unable to see the detail of the complaints.

When Ms Evans responded saying mediation would not be appropriate, they stated on April 26: “This is both unfair and incompetent.

“In addition to that our client is being asked now to respond to evidence he has not seen and which he would not get to see before a decision is made by you.

“He is being denied the opportunity to obtain or present his own evidence.”

They added: “For the avoidance of doubt, most of the factual content of the allegations is disputed.

“There are many other points where our client’s position is that his conduct taken in its proper context and seen in its proper light did not amount to harassment on any reasonable view.”

In further correspondence on June 13, they sought “strict confidentiality” on the matters.

Even disclosing them to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be a breach of confidence, they said.

Later in June, they described the reputational damage their client could suffer, saying: “Our client’s prospects of standing for public office or obtaining employment or pursuing business opportunities would be hugely damaged.”

On August 22, when the Permanent Secretary produced her report into the harassment complaints, the lawyers noted their offers of arbitration had been “repeatedly rejected”.

In an email at 10.30pm on August 23, Levy & McRae said they had been contacted by The Daily Record, which was going to run a story on the complaint of sexual harassment.

They said: “Our client is extremely concerned at the level of detail which The Daily Record appeared to have acquired on the story and is strongly of the view that the detail can only have been provided by a member of the Scottish Government.

“Our client formally calls upon the Scottish Government to institute an immediate inquiry into the source(s) of this information standing the Government’s assurances on confidentiality.”

The emails were released to a Holyrood committee examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints.

During an evidence session on Tuesday, the Scottish Government’s former director of legal services Paul Cackette said the request for arbitration was rejected because it was deemed “inappropriate”.

Mr Cackette said the Scottish Government did not believe it could “separate out the substance of the complaints” from the competency and legality of the investigation process.

The “substance of the complaints” would not have been resolved by the arbitration process, he said, and it would not have prevented future legal action by Mr Salmond.

Mr Cackette told MSPs: “The view that we took was that it wasn’t possible to completely separate out the substance of the complaints from the arguments about procedural regularity or irregularity because of the circumstances and the nature of the complaints themselves.”