An unseen account suggests Ms Sturgeon took part in a “discussion about the investigation” before the date she gave to parliament.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faces new questions over whether she misled parliament about when she knew of sexual misconduct complaints against Alex Salmond.
Sky News has learned there are conflicting accounts of a meeting she attended at the height of a Scottish government inquiry into her predecessor.
Ms Sturgeon told parliament she was informed of complaints against Mr Salmond when he told her himself on 2 April 2018. However, a previously unseen account of an earlier meeting contradicts her version of events.
It indicates she was involved in a “discussion about the investigation” before the date she gave to parliament.
Political opponents say it raises questions over whether or not the first minister misled the Scottish Parliament and breached the ministerial code.
The questions arise from events in 2018, when two female civil servants made complaints of historical sexual misconduct against Mr Salmond, which he strenuously denied.
The Scottish government mounted an inquiry but it was abandoned after Mr Salmond launched a legal challenge and the Court of Session found the handling of the investigation was “tainted by apparent bias”.
The contradiction surrounding Ms Sturgeon’s version of events centres on what she knew of the Scottish government’s inquiry – and when.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament in January 2019, she said she was informed of the inquiry by Mr Salmond himself on 2 April 2018.
However, it emerged during Mr Salmond’s recent criminal trial – at which he was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault – that a meeting took place four days before on 29 March 2018.
The meeting took place in the first minister’s Holyrood office and was attended by Ms Sturgeon, a government official and Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff.
No evidence was heard at the trial about the content of the 29 March meeting, but Sky News has seen an account that indicates the complaints against Mr Salmond were discussed, contradicting what Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.
The account that we have seen states: “The conversation was around the fact of the complaints, without discussing the specifics of them.
“There was discussion about the investigation, the process of it, the fact it was a civil service investigation being conducted by civil servants.”
Details of the meeting were recorded during precognition interviews prior to the criminal trial and Mr Aberdein revealed his involvement while giving evidence as a defence witness.
He told the court he had been contacted by an aide to Ms Sturgeon in the spring of 2018 and it triggered a series of subsequent meetings.
6 March 2018 – Geoff Aberdein met Nicola Sturgeon’s aide for “a catch up”
9 March 2018 – During this meeting, Nicola Sturgeon’s aide told Geoff Aberdein of two complaints of alleged misconduct against Alex Salmond
29 March 2018 – Geoff Aberdein met Nicola Sturgeon in her Holyrood office. A senior Scottish government official was also present. Sky News has been told that the investigation into complaints against Alex Salmond was discussed at this meeting
2 April 2018 – Nicola Sturgeon met Alex Salmond at her house in Glasgow. She tells the Scottish Parliament that this was when he informed her of the complaints against him. Geoff Aberdein was among others present in the house at the time, including a senior Scottish government official.
Christine Jardine MP, Liberal Democrat for Edinburgh West, says the sequence of meetings raises serious questions for Scotland’s first minister.
She told Sky News: “What we have now are concerns about inconsistencies in what we’ve been told, and what we need is to know whether the first minister deliberately, or by mistake, misled parliament.
“These are all SNP people discussing something that had, and still has, the potential to seriously damage the SNP.
“What were they talking about? What was the purpose of it? Has the first minister given full disclosure? If not, that’s a serious matter.”
A Scottish government spokesperson told Sky News that Ms Sturgeon does not dispute that the 29 March meeting took place but refutes the suggestion that it involved discussion of the Scottish government’s Salmond inquiry.
Sky News asked the Scottish government several questions regarding the meeting on 29 March 2018.
We asked if the Alex Salmond investigation was indeed discussed. A spokesperson replied: “The first minister stands by her statement to parliament.”
We asked if the first minister misled the Scottish Parliament when she told MSPs that it was Mr Salmond who informed her of the investigation into complaints against him on 2 April 2018.
A spokesperson replied: “The first minister stands by her statement to parliament.”
We asked if minutes were kept of the 29 March 2018 meeting and if it was recorded in the diaries of either Ms Sturgeon or the government official present. The Scottish government made no comment.
When contacted by Sky News, Mr Aberdein declined to comment.
Questions arising from the new revelations will almost certainly be asked of Ms Sturgeon when she faces a Holyrood committee looking into the Scottish government’s botched 2018 investigation of complaints against Mr Salmond.
The cross-party committee will start taking oral evidence in the autumn from the first minister and others, who include Mr Salmond, Mr Aberdein and Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP.
There are other reviews, too, stemming from the abandoned inquiry. Both have been put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Scottish government itself is looking into how its harassment procedures were applied.
Separately, Ms Sturgeon referred herself to an independent panel that will look into whether or not she broke the ministerial code in her dealings with Mr Salmond.
Her self-referral came after opposition parties questioned why she had been made aware of the inquiry into Mr Salmond when, as first minister, she should not have known about it until its outcome.
They also queried why three meetings and two phone calls with Mr Salmond in spring-summer 2018 had not been minuted as government business.
Ms Sturgeon said at the time that it was party business, not government, and insisted she had done nothing to intervene in the inquiry process.