Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she “deeply regrets” her government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond, apologising to the two women who were “failed” by the botched probe.
However, the SNP leader defended herself against accusations by her predecessor that she misled parliament during her opening statement to a Holyrood committee on Wednesday morning.
“I’ve never claimed in this or anything else to be infallible. I have searched my soul on all of this many, many times over. It may very well be that I didn’t get everything right, that’s for others to judge,” she told MSPs.
Denying her former mentor’s allegations of a “concerted” plot to bring him down, Ms Sturgeon said: “I feel I must rebut the absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond. That claim is not based in any fact.”
Criticising Mr Salmond’s actions, Ms Sturgeon said he had told her about his own inappropriate behaviour with women. “He gave me his account of one of the incidents complained of … What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “That he was acquitted of criminal conduct by a jury is beyond question.
“But I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate. And yet across six hours of [his] testimony there was not a single word of regret.”
Defending her government’s probe into Mr Salmond, she said: “As first minister I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.”
She told she stood by a series of decisions that were made in relation to a judicial review which her government lost, insisting decisions were “legally sound.” She added: “The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.”
The first minister has been grilled by MSPs about the 2018 meetings at which she was first made aware of allegations against her predecessor.
She originally told parliament she became aware of the investigation when Mr Salmond told her at her Glasgow home on 2 April 2018. But she subsequently had to admit to having “forgotten” a meeting four days earlier with Mr Salmond’s aide Geoff Aberdein, during which the investigation was discussed.
Ms Sturgeon said before a media inquiry from Sky News in November 2017 she had been aware “of allegations or concerns about sexually inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond”.
“Since an approach from Sky News in November 2017 ... I had harboured a lingering suspicion that such issues in relation to Mr Salmond might rear their head. So hearing of a potential issue would not in itself have been a massive shock.”
Despite a Scottish government probe being discussed at her home at the 2 April meeting, Ms Sturgeon insisted the meeting in her home was “firmly in the personal and party space”.
Scotland’s ministerial code states that the basic facts of any government meetings should be recorded, but the meeting at Ms Sturgeon’s home was not recorded.
Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the committee
Ms Sturgeon faced further questions from MSPs about written evidence released on Tuesday from Duncan Hamilton – a former SNP MSP – and the SNP’s former communications director Kevin Pringle, which contradict her own statements to parliament.
Mr Pringle confirmed Mr Salmond’s assertion that the name of one of the women had been revealed to Mr Salmond’s aide by one of Ms Sturgeon’s staff at the meeting on 29 March.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie asked Ms Sturgeon about the claims the identity of the complainer had been revealed to his aide at the March meeting.
The first minister replied: “I wasn’t [at the meeting]. Therefore I cannot give a direct account. What I can say is, the account I have been given, has given me assurances that what is alleged to have happened at didn’t happen in the way that has been described.”
In his written evidence Mr Hamilton substantiated Mr Salmond’s allegation that Ms Sturgeon offered to intervene and mediate in the allegations on 2 April. “My clear recollection is that her words were, ‘If it comes to it, I will intervene’.”
Ms Sturgeon previously told MSPs: “I did not seek to intervene in it at any stage.” On Wednesday morning, she said she had had no intention of intervening in the investigation process, adding “and I did not”.