Sturgeon not informed about potential harassment by Salmond, inquiry told

Former permanent secretary Sir Peter Housen has given evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond

The former head of the civil service in Scotland has said he never told Nicola Sturgeon about potential bullying, intimidation or harassment by Alex Salmond.

In a letter to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Sir Peter Housden said he was “not aware of any harassment concerns”.

During an evidence session on September 15 by the committee, which is examining the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints about Mr Salmond, Sir Peter refused to reveal whether he raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon – who was then Mr Salmond’s deputy.

Sir Peter told the committee that Mr Salmond displayed “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” and his tenure was “punctuated” by concerning behaviour.

He said he “had a word with another senior politician” about his concerns, although no formal complaints were raised during his time as permanent secretary between 2010 and 2015.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Sir Peter Housden, former Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Government, giving evidence to the committee (Jane Barlow/PA)

But repeatedly challenged as to whether he raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon – in line with Scottish Government procedures – Sir Peter said he had a “duty of confidentiality” and would not disclose any further details.

After the evidence session, committee convener Linda Fabiani wrote to Sir Peter suggesting he was being “overly cautious” in his interpretation of the civil service code of conduct and to ask again whether he had raised concerns with Ms Sturgeon.

In response, Sir Peter wrote: “I can confirm that I was not aware of any harassment concerns and so did not discuss any with Ms Sturgeon.

“While your letter refers only to ‘harassment concerns’, for the avoidance of doubt, I did not discuss any ‘bullying and intimidatory’ behaviour by Mr Salmond with Ms Sturgeon either.”

Sir Peter said he usually dealt with concerns informally.

“In those circumstances, where you have got a formal complaint and there is no known egregious acts, informal means were the only ones available,” he said.

Explaining his method of informing ministers about complaints, Sir Peter added: “I felt it was important to make sure that the administration knew what we were dealing with.

“This was part of keeping these issues front and centre, because I think the civil service is entitled to expect ministers to be able to control their behaviour.

“And where that had gone beyond reasonable bounds but had not triggered a complaint, it did not seem to me unreasonable that it should be a fact that was known about.”

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Barbara Allison is due to appear before the committee again on Tuesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

The committee’s inquiry is looking into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of allegations against the former first minister that the Court of Session ruled was “unlawful” because of apparent bias.

It resulted in Mr Salmond being awarded £512,000 of public money for his legal costs.

After claims of “obstruction” by witnesses, including Mr Salmond and the Scottish Government, on Tuesday the committee will hold its first public evidence session since Sir Peter’s appearance on September 15.

Judith MacKinnon, the Scottish Government’s head of people advice, will be questioned by MSPs, followed by its communications director Barbara Allison, who will be appearing before the committee for the second time.

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