NICOLA Sturgeon said it would have been “deeply inappropriate” for her to have agreed to Alex Salmond’s request for arbitration, even though it may have prevented him taking the Government to a judicial review.

He asked three times for some form of mediation with the women who accused him of harassment to be considered, rather than going through a new complaints procedure.

That was rejected, ultimately leading to Salmond going to court to challenge the fairness and the implementation of the policy.

He had the exercise set aside after it emerged the civil servant appointed as investigating officer had substantial prior contact with the complainers. Lord Pentland branded the probe into Salmond as “tainted by bias” and “unlawful”.

Sturgeon told the committee the complaints procedure was not flawed.

She said: “The procedure itself has not been declared to be unlawful and could be used.

READ MORE: RECAP: Nicola Sturgeon's evidence at Holyrood inquiry

“What went wrong here was when there were complaints to be investigated ... a mistake was made ... because the investigating officer had prior contact with those who were making complaints.

“It was how it was used that the flaw was identified, not in the fundamentals of the procedure.

“I know that is difficult for people to grasp.”

She said it would have been an “egregious” breach of her position if she agreed to intervene.

The First Minister told the committee: “The issue for me ... was is it appropriate for me to intervene in the process, and I don’t think it was.

“Had I done so I think I would have been facing serious criticism on that score as well.

“I don’t think anybody around this table would be sitting here patting me on the back had I sought to intervene and influence the course of that procedure.”

She added: “Had I intervened ... I would have felt I was effectively colluding with him to try to thwart the direction and the natural course of the investigation and I think that would have been a heinous, egregious breach of my position.”

READ MORE: IN FULL: Nicola Sturgeon's opening statement to Holyrood's harassment committee

Salmond has repeatedly said that Sturgeon did offer to intervene. On Tuesday night, Salmond’s advocate, Duncan Hamilton – a former MSP – told the committee in a written submission that his recollection of a meeting between the two on 2 April, 2018 was that “her words were: if it comes to it I will intervene”.

LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton asked why Salmond had left her house with the impression Sturgeon was going to help him.

She responded: “I did make clear to him I had no role in the process and I think I made it clear I wouldn’t intervene.

“Did I make that clear enough? The things I was saying didn’t strike me as saying I would intervene. If he left with the impression that I was, that’s not the impression I wanted to give him.”

“I think I was clear, and certainly intended to be clear.”

In an earlier answer the First Minister told the committee: “I was possibly couching ‘I’m not intervening’ in terms that were, given the relationship between us, maybe not as blunt as they should be.

“I had no intention of intervening, and crucially I did not intervene in the process, and that is the case.”

During her eight hour evidence session, the First Minister also said it was “absurd” to suggest that “anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond”.

She said the “idea this was some concoction or plot is just not based on any semblance of fact or any semblance of credible evidence”.

“I have seen nothing that comes within a million miles of backing up that central assertion Alex was making,” she added.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon denies her government should have conceded Salmond case earlier

The SNP chief was also asked about the leak of the allegations and details from the report to the Daily Record in August 2018.

Sturgeon said the stories “didn’t come from me, or anyone acting on my instruction or request”.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said that she was told the paper was passed the information to kill off an upcoming story about Sturgeon.

The SNP leader ridiculed the suggestion. “That is a new part of the conspiracy I’m hearing for the first time,” she said.

Sturgeon added: “Just think how implausible that is. That’s an incredible coincidence, which is why it didn’t happen.”