FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday won his legal action against the Scottish Government which he led for almost eight years after

the government admitted that it had breached its own procedures while investigating allegations of sexual harassment against him dating from 2013.

The costs of the case at the Court of Session were awarded against the government, and Salmond promptly called on Scotland’s top civil servant Leslie Evans to quit her post after accusing her of “wasting” hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money defending the administration’s “unlawful” handling of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

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Evans was later backed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who told the Scottish Parliament: “It is deeply regrettable, and perhaps that is an understatement, that as a result of a failure in the proper application of one part of the procedure, the Scottish Government has had to settle this matter.”

Sturgeon refused to make public the outcome of the investigation or the substance of the complaints, as she apologised to the two women who made them, saying they had “every right to expect the process to be robust and beyond reproach ... and to reach a lasting conclusion”.

Salmond, who has consistently denied the allegations, will meet his legal team later to consider his next step. The National can reveal that may include suing the Scottish Government, a case which could revolve around the leaking of the investig-ation report to a tabloid newspaper. He is also the subject of a police investigation dating back to August – five months on, The National can also reveal Salmond has still to be interviewed by police officers.

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Key to Salmond’s victory yesterday was a decision in December by judge Lord Pentland to appoint a legal commissioner, Morag Ross QC, to examine dozens of documents relating to the case which the government had redacted by blacking out screeds of text – documents which the government had resisted showing to Salmond’s legal experts in the first place.

It was government documents which showed that the officer who was investigating the allegations,

Judith Mackinnon, had prior contacts with the two complainers, a clear breach of the procedures for such inquiries, and which eventually forced the government to back down. It faces a seven-figure bill for legal expenses and the time of staff.

The National can reveal that Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans testified on oath to the Commissioner before Christmas. In a statement yesterday she admitted that the Scottish Government’s case began to unravel last month.

Evans said: “The full picture only became evident in December 2018 as a result of the work being undertaken to produce relevant documents in advance of the hearing.”

The National can further reveal that prior to the government’s case collapsing late last week, John Somers, Principal Private Secretary to Nicola Sturgeon and Liz Lloyd, the First Minister’s chief of staff, were set to be called to the Court of Session on Monday to be quizzed about the documents which the Scottish Government had redacted.

A source close to Salmond said: “Clearly there was something the Government did not want to reveal.”

Salmond is still furious about what he called “systematic leaking” on the matter, including the report in which the Daily Record broke the story in August.

A four-day hearing into the case was due to be held next week at the Court of Session in Edinburgh but yesterday Lord Pentland ruled that the Scottish Government’s actions were “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias”.

Both the First Minister and Leslie Evans said an internal review would be carried out into the way the complaints process had been handled. Denying an accusation by Tory stand-in leader Jackson Carlaw that public money was being wasted on “an SNP civil war”, Nicola Sturgeon told the Holyrood Parliament she had spoken to Alex Salmond five times since the allegations became a formal complaint last January, but had never intervened in the matter.

She said: “It remains my view that the government was right to begin an investigation when serious complaints were made and not allow them to be swept under the carpet because of the identity of the person complained about.”

Evans stated: “The Scottish Government has acted in good faith at all times and will continue to do so. It was right and proper that these complaints were investigated and I stand by the decision to carry out that

investigation.

“It is also important to note that the procedural flaw in the investigation does not have implications, one way or the other, for the substance of the complaints or the credibility of the complainers.

“The judicial review was never about the substance of the complaints, but about the process that took place to investigate those complaints.”

As a result, Evans said, it was open to the Scottish Government to reinvestigate the complaints, adding that “subject to the views of the complainants, it would be our intention to consider this”, adding this would only be “once ongoing police inquiries have concluded”.

Salmond retorted that this was an “extraordinary and desperate” statement as options for this had been available during the case and his legal team are confident that there can be no reopening of the Government investigation.