Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been asked to explain fresh allegations of “interference” by her chief of staff in a sexual misconduct investigation.
Conservative MP David Davis used parliamentary privilege in Westminster to allege that civil servants exchanged messages suggesting that Liz Lloyd was interfering in the complaints process against Alex Salmond.
He said the message was sent on 6 February 2018, two months before Scotland’s First Minister told parliament she first learned of the complaints.
Ms Sturgeon’s opponents have said it makes her story of when she knew of the complaints “even more implausible.”
The MP for Haltemprice and Howden said he had received information from a whistleblower regarding the 2018 Scottish government investigation into harassment complaints against Alex Salmond by two female civil servants.
At the time, Mr Salmond challenged the legality of the investigation and it was ruled “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
A Scottish Parliament inquiry is currently looking into the mishandling of the investigation and members of its committee have complained about a lack of access to key documentation.
Mr Davis said that information he had received related to an exchange of texts on the 6 February 2018 between two Scottish Government civil servants, suggesting the First Minister’s chief of staff “is interfering in the complaints process against Alex Salmond.”
He added: “If true, this suggests the chief of staff had knowledge of the Salmond case in February.”
He said Nicola Sturgeon had “tied herself to (an) April date in both parliamentary and legal statements. She was of course aware earlier than that: the question is just how aware and how much earlier.”
The allegation has prompted new questions from Ms Surgeon’s opponents.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “If the First Minister’s side were aware of complaints against Alex Salmond in February 2018, an outrageous breach of those women’s privacy and confidentiality has occurred.
“February 2018 is also two months before Nicola Sturgeon originally claimed to find out about complaints. If her chief of staff knew then, and was interfering in the investigation, it blows another enormous hole in the First Minister’s story.
“If civil servants said the First Minister’s chief of staff was interfering in the investigation, then that is a sacking offence. It raises serious questions about how she tried to interfere, how she found out, who told her, when she knew, and who she went on to tell.
“It further raises the question if anyone told Nicola Sturgeon that her chief of staff was interfering in the investigation. If they did, a number of lies have been told to the Scottish Parliament. If they didn’t, it still makes Nicola Sturgeon’s story of when she claims to have found out about complaints even more implausible.
“These are all ‘ifs’. We need Nicola Sturgeon to immediately confirm or deny these new allegations, and to agree to release the evidence that has been cited this week.”
Mr Davis also echoed Mr Salmond’s claim that text messages exchanged between senior figures within the SNP showed a concerted effort to encourage complaints against him and he cast doubt on evidence given under oath by SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, the husband of Nicola Sturgeon.
He referred to Mr Murrell’s appearance before the Holyrood harassment committee in which he said his evidence regarding (text) messages and their non-existence was “hard to reconcile with the dozens of messages stretching over a period of months from September 2018, which I have now seen.”
Referring to an “anonymous” committee member who was quoted as describing them as private conversations, he said: “They should understand that meddling in an ongoing police inquiry is at best improper, and at worst criminal. So, it requires proper investigation.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “As with Mr Salmond’s previous claims and cherry picking of messages, the reality is very different to the picture being presented.
“Every message involving SNP staff has been seen by the committee previously. Their views have been widely reported as dismissive of them.”
Regarding the claims about her chief of staff, the spokesperson said: “The comment read out by Mr Davis in relation to the Chief of Staff does not relate to Ms A or Ms B and, at that time, she was not aware that there was any connection to the former First Minister.”