Opening statement

“The spotlight shone on historic workplace harassment in late 2017 was long overdue.

It was absolutely right at that time for my government to review its processes, consider any weaknesses and gaps in them and put in place a procedure that would allow complaints, including those of historic nature, to be investigated.”

“When complaints were made about Alex Salmond it was also absolutely right that the Government took them seriously and subjected them to investigation."

“An individual’s profile, status or connections should not result in complaints of this nature being ignored or swept under the carpet. That in this case it was a former First Minister does not change that.”

Admits mistakes

"As a result of a mistake that was made, a very serious mistake in the investigation of the complaints against Alex Salmond, two women were failed and taxpayers money was lost. I deeply regret that. “

Although I was not aware of the error at the time, I am the head of the Scottish Government and so I want to take this opportunity to say sorry to the two women involved and to the wider public.”

“I also accept, without any reservation, that my actions deserve to be scrutinised. Two years ago I volunteered for such scrutiny by referring matters relating to my contact with Alex Salmond to the independent adviser on the ministerial code, James Hamilton."

"Mr Hamilton is conducting an independent investigation and I await his findings. His investigation is not being conducted in public though, of course, his conclusions will be published. “

“As a result of that he is able to hear and consider material that, because of a contempt of court order, this committee cannot, including, as I understand it, from people who were actually party to discussions that others who are not party to those discussions are seeking to attest to."

“Mr Hamilton has offered no commentary on his investigation and nor will I . However, this committee and the public are entitled to hear from me directly on the matters under consideration. So today I will do my best to answer every question asked of me directly and in as much detail as I can.”

Contact with Alex Salmond

"I volunteered to Parliament my contact with Alex Salmond and I stated as follows. On April 2nd 2018 he informed me about the complaints against him. I will explain why I stand by that statement.”

“Second, I will set out why I did not immediately record the April 2nd meeting within the Scottish Government, a decision based entirely on my desire to protect the independence and the confidentiality of the process.”

“Thirdly, I will outline why I believe it was right that I did not intervene in the investigation when I became aware of it, even though Alex Salmond asked me to do so.”

“And finally, although the mistakes made in the conduct of the investigation meant, ultimately, that the action for judicial review could not be defended, I will demonstrate that the decisions taken at each stage of it were legally sound.”

“I’m sure we will return to all of these matters in detail, however I want to focus in these opening remarks on the issues around my contact with Alex Salmond on April 2nd and and my contact, three days earlier, with his former chief of staff.

“Alex has claimed in his testimony to the committee that the meeting in my home on April 2nd took place with a shared understanding on the part of all the participants of the issues for discussion.

“In other words that he turned up to the meeting, believing, I already knew everything.”

“I think it’s worth noting, even just in passing, that this in fact represents a change in his position.

"On the 14th of January, 2019, after the conclusion of the judicial review, a spokesperson issued this comment on his behalf: ‘Alex has no certainty as to the state of knowledge of the First Minister before then, by which he meant. April 2nd.'”

Meeting Alex Salmond at her house

“When he arrived at my house he was insistent that he speak to me entirely privately, away from his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein and Duncan Hamilton who had accompanied him, and my chief of staff who was with me.”

“That would have seemed unnecessary had there already been a shared understanding on the part of all of us. He then asked me to read a letter he had received from the Permanent Secretary.”

“This letter set out the fact that complaints of sexual harassment had been made against him by two individuals, made clear that these complaints were being investigated under the procedure adopted at the end of 2017, and set out the details of what he was alleged to have done.”

"A moment in my life I will never forget"

“Reading this letter is a moment in my life that I will never forget. Although he denied the allegations he gave me his account of one of the incidents complained of, which he said he had apologised for at the time.”

“What he described constituted, in my view, deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part, perhaps another reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind.”

“At the time he was showing me the letter and outlining his account Geoff and Duncan were doing the same with my chief of staff. Again, this would seem unnecessary had she and I known everything in advance.”

Conversation with Geoff Aberdein

“Questions have been raised about the conversation I had three days earlier on 29th March 2018 with Geoff Aberdein and another individual. I’ve not seen Mr Aberdein’s own account of that conversation..."

"Let me say upfront that I have no wish to question the sincerity of Geoff’s recollection, Geoff Aberdein is somebody I remain extremely fond of.

“But it is clear that my recollection is different, and that I did not, and do not attach the same significance to that discussion that he has.

“The purpose of the conversation seemed to be to persuade me to meet with Alex as soon as possible, which I did agree to do in that conversation.”

“Geoff did indicate that a harassment type issue had arisen, but my recollection is that he did so in general terms.

"Since an approach from Sky News in November 2017, and I mentioned this in my written evidence to the committee, 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 have been in itself a massive shock.”

Why she agreed to meeting Salmond

“What I recall more strongly about the conversation is how worried Geoff seemed to be about Alex’s welfare and state of mind, which as a friend concerned me. He also said he thought Alex might be considering resigning his party membership.”

“It was these factors that led me to agree to meet him and it was these factors that placed the meeting on April 2nd firmly in the personal and party space.

When she learned the details

“Not unreasonably at all, some people have asked how I could have forgotten the conversation of 29th March, and I certainly wish my memory of it was more vivid.

"But as I have stated, it was the detail of the complaints under the procedure that I was given on April 2nd that was significant and indeed shocking."

"That was the moment at which any suspicions I had or general awareness that there was a problem, became actual and detailed knowledge.”

“It’s also worth saying that, even if I had known on 29th March, everything I learned on April 2nd my actions wouldn’t necessarily have been different.

“Given what I was told about the distress Alex was in, and how it was suggested to me that he might be intending to handle matters, it is likely that I would still have agreed to meet him as a friend and as his party leader.”

“And as I also set out in written evidence my decision not to record the meeting on April 2nd immediately wasn’t about the classification I gave it, not about it being a party rather than a government meeting. It was because I did not want to compromise the independence of the confidentiality of the process underway.”

The Ministerial Code

“Let me turn now to my decision to not immediately report to the contact. Sections 4.22 and 4.23 of the ministerial code seek to guard against underscores outside influence on decisions that ministers are involved in...”

“This situation as I saw it was the opposite of that. The terms of the procedure excluded me from any investigation into a former minister. I had no role in the process and should not even have known that an investigation was underway.”

“So in my judgement the undue influence that section four is designed to avoid would have been more likely to arise had those conducting the investigation been informed that I knew about it.”

“I didn’t want to take the risk that they might be influenced, even subconsciously, by any assumption of how I might want the matter handled.”

“Their ability to do the job independently would be better protected by me saying nothing."

“It’s also my reading of the code that had I reported it the fact of my meeting With Alex Salmond would have had to be made public potentially breaching the confidentiality of the process.

"It was for those reasons that I did not immediately record the April 2nd meeting or the subsequent phone call on 23rd April in which Alex Salmond wanted me to tell the Permanent Secretary that I knew about the investigation and persuade her to agree to mediation.”

"It is worth noting the notice to ministerial code places a number of obligations on ministers and respect for the impartiality of civil servants and the confidentiality of government business are also obligations imposed on me by the code.”

“My judgement on that changed when Alex Salmond made it clear to me that he was seriously considering legal action. I felt then that I had no choice but to inform the Permanent Secretary which I did on 6th June 2018. I also confirmed to her that I had no intention of intervening in the process, and I did not intervene in the process.”

“Mr Salmond’s anger at me for this, I think, is evident, but intervening in a process that I was expressly excluded from and trying on behalf of a close associate to change the course it might take would have been an abuse of my role.”

Judicial review

“The prospects of defending Mr Salmond’s initial challenge changed over a two month period from late October to late December."

“The concerns raised by counsel caused by emerging evidence regarding the role of the investigating officer undoubtedly caused me and others to pause to check if we should continue to defend the case.”

“However, as late as December 11th the view of law officers following consultation with counsel was as follows: ‘Very clear that no question or need to drop the case, the Lord Advocate clear that even if prospects are not certain it is important that our cases is heard’

‘Senior Counsel make clear that his note was not intended to convey that he didn’t think we have a stateable case.’

“It concluded that, including on the appointment of the investigating officer, and again I’m quoting, ‘we have credible arguments to make across the petition.’”

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“It was when that changed that the decision was taken to concede. In any legal challenge a government faces there is a balance of risk. "

"That risk cannot be eliminated but the task of ministers is to consider carefully all of the advice we receive and consider the broader public interest,

“The test in the ministerial code is not the view of external lawyers, but of law officers.”

Rebutts claims of plot or malice against Salmond

“That claim is not based in any fact. What happened is this, and it is simple.”

“A number of women made serious complaints about Alex Salmond's behaviour. The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.

“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."

“The police conducted an independent criminal investigation. The crown office as it does in prosecution’s every single day of the week, considered the evidence and decided there was a case to answer in court."

"The courts and jury did their jobs and this committee, and an independent investigation, are considering what happened and why."

Sturgeon expresses sadness

“For my part, I am not relishing the prospect, but relieved to be finally facing this committee.

“But given all that has brought us to this moment, being here also makes me really sad. Sometimes the personal and human elements of this situation are last.”

“Alex spoke on Friday about what a nightmare the last couple of years have been for him and I don’t doubt that.

"I have thought often about the impact on him. He was someone I cared about for a long time. Maybe that’s why on Friday, I found myself searching for anything, any sign at all, he recognised how difficult this has been for others too."

“First and foremost for women who believed his behaviour towards them was inappropriate. But also for those of us who have campaigned with him, worked with them, cared for him and considered him a friend and who now stand unfairly accused of plotting against them.

"That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question, beyond question. But I know, just from what he told me that his behaviour was not always appropriate.

"And yet, across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection, or even simple acknowledgement of that. I can only hope that in private the reality might be different.”

Concluding statement

"I’ve 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."

"But in one of the most invidious, political and personal situations I have ever faced. I believe I acted properly and appropriately and the overall I made the best judgments I could."

"For anyone willing to listen with an open mind that is what I will seek to demonstrate today."