NICOLA Sturgeon’s spokesperson has claimed the First Minister is the victim of a “smear campaign” over her handling of allegations against Alex Salmond.

Yesterday, “friends of Salmond” were quoted in two newspapers suggesting that despite her claim otherwise, Sturgeon knew of the harassment allegations before she met with her predecessor in April last year.

The First Minister’s official spokesman hit back at the “insiders” claiming they were trying to “smear” the SNP leader.

Last week Salmond won a judicial review at the Court of Session against the Scottish Government, after it was revealed an official who investigated two claims made against him in January 2018 had been in prior contact with his accusers for several weeks.

That, his lawyers said, rendered the investigation unlawful and unfair. The government backed down.

During last week’s First Minister’s Questions, Sturgeon told MSPs she had only become aware of the complaints against Salmond on April 2.

But in yesterday’s Times, it was claimed Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff, Liz Lloyd, had told Salmond back in March not to stand for election because of sexual harassment allegations made against him.

The paper quoted sources close to Salmond saying the call was made days before he knew there was a government investigation into his conduct.

A report in The Sun also said Sturgeon was aware of the investigation ahead of the meeting between the two on April 2. A Salmond camp insider told the paper: “She already knew about the inquiry. She knew.”

A statement issued by Sturgeon’s official spokesman denied this: “This appears to be an attempt to smear the First Minister.

“Suggestions by Mr Salmond’s ‘insiders’ that the First Minister knew about the investigation before April 2 are not true. The suggestion put to Ms Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff by the Times, that she knew of complaints when she met someone who could be described as an intermediary

for Alex Salmond on 6 March, is also not true.”

In a statement, Salmond’s spokesman said this was incorrect: “In the interests of accuracy it is the case that the First Minister’s senior special adviser knew of the existence of complaints against Alex some time before the meeting of April 2 and that she initiated the first contact through an intermediary.

“They then arranged the meeting which Alex asked for. Alex has no certainty as to the stare of knowledge of the First Minister before then.”

Sturgeon has referred herself to a panel of independent advisers on the Ministerial Code over her meetings and conversations with Salmond.

Opposition parties in Holyrood are to meet this morning to discuss the need for a formal Parliament probe.