A claim from the SNP’s chief operating officer that Alex Salmond performed an “act of physical aggression” has been disputed by another staff member of the party.
On Monday, Sue Ruddick said she had reported an act of “physical aggression” by Mr Salmond to the police, as she issued a statement saying the messages of women who made complaints about him must remain private.
However, this led to claim and counter-claim, with Anne Harvey – principal assistant to the chief whip at the SNP’s Westminster Group – saying “categorically” there was no physical aggression on the part of Mr Salmond when the three were “door-knocking” together while campaigning in Glenrothes, Fife, during 2008.
Ms Ruddick later said Ms Harvey was not present at the incident she had reported to the police – which Police Scotland said was investigated but found “insufficient corroborative evidence to charge”.
Ms Harvey said: “Alex walked past Sue in the stairwell of a close.
“He brushed past her on the stairwell as he was heading to leave the close. I saw and heard nothing which caused me any alarm or concern.
“I was only yards away.
“This is the incident she is referring to, but I can categorically confirm that there was no physical aggression on the part of Mr Salmond.
“Any contact at all between him and her that day was absolutely inadvertent and in no way deliberate or aggressive.”
She said the police had questioned her “extensively” about the incident, and she had been “close friends” with Ms Ruddick at the time.
According to Ms Harvey, the complaint to the police was made 10 years later, when Mr Salmond challenged the Scottish Government in the courts.
She continued: “More generally, there have been discussion again today about whether there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond.
“I have believed for some time that there was what I described in writing on 28 August 2018 as a ‘witch-hunt’ against him after receiving what I considered to be an improper request from SNP HQ seeking to damage Mr Salmond.”
Last week, the Scottish Parliament committee looking into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond requested documents detailing text or WhatsApp communications between Ms Ruddick and Scottish Government ministers, civil servants or special advisers from between August 2018 and January 2019 which might be relevant to its inquiry.
The committee decided not to publish the material it received from the Crown Office, with convener Linda Fabiani said these message chains represented “safe spaces for confidential support”.
On Monday, Ms Ruddick said she was concerned the committee would seek the production of further messages.
In her first public statement on the matter, she said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the committee is determined to ignore complainers privacy rights and refer to, act upon and make public – whether in writing or through oral reference in a public session – private, confidential communications, despite having no lawful power to do so.
“Private communications between myself and (SNP chief executive) Mr Murrell are in no way relevant to this committee’s remit.
“I am not a government employee and had no role in the complaints process of the Scottish Government.
“The messages the committee saw last week confirm I reported to Police Scotland an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond.
“The messages confirmed there was no conspiracy.”
Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year.
Ms Ruddick said her privacy had been breached repeatedly through “selective leaks” over the past several months.
She added: “The bullying and intimidation of complainers through use of their private and personal communications must end now.”
On Monday evening, she issued a further statement in response to Ms Harvey’s claims.
She said: “Mr Salmond clearly agreed he behaved inappropriately as he called repeatedly to apologise.
“Ms Harvey was not present at the time of this incident.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Salmond said: “Anne Harvey has been brave and principled enough to put her head above the parapet and establish the truth. She is a solicitor and an officer of the court.
“She has total certainty of her recall of this incident and we have complete confidence in her position, to which she has offered to swear under oath.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police Scotland received a report of common assault which was thoroughly investigated.
“There was insufficient corroborative evidence to charge, however, the circumstances were included in our report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”