SCOTLAND’S top civil servant has apologised “unreservedly” for a procedural failure in the Government’s handling of allegations against Alex Salmond.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said sorry in her opening statement to the Holyrood committee investigating the response to claims made against the former first minister.

Addressing MSPs, Evans said: "When complaints were raised it would have been unconscionable, and a failure in our duty of care, not to investigate those complaints.

"It was accepted at judicial review that one part of our procedure should have been applied differently.

"I apologise unreservedly to all concerned for this procedural failure."

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She added: "We have already learned early lessons from this experience as part of work being led by our people directorate.

"And we also await the findings of the review which I commissioned, externally led by Laura Dunlop QC, now under way.

"But it remains the case that the investigation of those complaints was the right thing to do."

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The Permanent Secretary said the Scottish Government "is and remains ahead of many other institutions in designing and implementing a procedure to address harassment and particularly to address historical allegations of sexual misconduct".

The inquiry was launched after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government's actions in dealing with the complaints made were "unlawful" – with ministers paying out £512,250.

Salmond, who was this year cleared of 13 sexual offences by a jury, will give evidence to the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee at a later date – as will his successor, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.