NICOLA Sturgeon's spokesman has described as "baseless assertion and smear" a new leak from the harassment committee concluding it is "hard to believe" the First Minister did not know of concerns about Alex Salmond's behaviour before November 2017 as she had claimed.

In a further finding this morning a majority of MSPs are understood to have concluded the First Minister misled the Holyrood committee if she did have knowledge of the concerns.

She has said she was informed about a media inquiry relating to the alleged behaviour by the then FM towards female Edinburgh Airport staff in November 2017 and that was the first she had ever heard of his potential inappropriate behaviour.

Sky News also has reported the probe believes Sturgeon should have acted upon any information about her predecessor's conduct.

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It also revealed the committee is "concerned" about the meetings Sturgeon had with Salmond after he revealed he was being investigated, and why it took the First Minister more than two months to tell the head of Scotland's civil service what she knew.

According to Sky News reporter James Matthews, the inquiry believes: "She should have made the Permanent Secretary aware as soon as possible after the April 2, 2018 meeting, at which point she should have confirmed she would cease contact with Alex Salmond."

The latest twist follows the revelation that the committee is understood to have voted by a five to four majority that Sturgeon gave an "inaccurate" account of a meeting with her predecessor, and therefore misled parliament.

Further leaks regard evidence to the inquiry about conflicting accounts on whether the First Minister offered to intervene in the complaints process at a meeting with Salmond on April 2, 2018. He and his lawyer say she did; but the First Minister denies this.

Reports today say the committee concluded Sturgeon's written evidence is  "an inaccurate account of what happened" and she has "misled the committee on this matter". 

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It added: "This is a potential breach of the Ministerial Code under the terms of section 1.3c.”

Responding to the developments today a spokesman for the First Minister said she told the truth to the committee, and stands by every word of her evidence. 

"The latest leak from the committee, suggesting they find it ‘hard to believe’ that the First Minister did not previously know about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond is not supported by a single shred of evidence.

"Sadly, she is not the first woman let down by a man she once trusted to face that charge, and regrettably she is unlikely to be the last."

He added: "On this, the committee appears to have resorted to baseless assertion, supposition and smear – that is not how serious parliamentary committees are supposed to work, and in behaving this way they are simply exposing their base political motives.  

“And on the suggestion that the First Minister was not clear to Mr Salmond that she would not intervene on his behalf, the committee appear to have deliberately ignored and suppressed evidence submitted to them which corroborates the First Minister’s evidence on that issue.

"And that, in fact, she did not intervene on behalf of a then friend and colleague to help cover up sexual harassment allegations, appears irrelevant to them."

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He continued: "It was clear from the actions of the Tories several weeks ago, when they announced plans for a motion of confidence before they had even heard a word of evidence from First Minister, that for them this committee was never a serious exercise in learning lessons on behalf of women who bring forward complaints of sexual harassment – it was only ever about politics. 

"The independent inquiry into the First Minister and the ministerial code is being conducted by James Hamilton, and we expect to receive and publish his report soon.”  

Last night Sturgeon described the news as a "very partisan leak" from the inquiry and said it is "not that surprising" as the committee is understood to have deemed she misled parliament.

She told Sky News: "I stand by all of the evidence I gave to the committee, all eight hours' worth of evidence.

"What's been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I uttered a single word of evidence, their public comments have made that clear.

"So this leak from the committee - very partisan leak - tonight before they've finalised the report is not that surprising."

The National:

She added that she is awaiting the result of the James Hamilton QC investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said the committee - which has four SNP members and five from other parties - is still considering its report.

It is expected to be published on Tuesday.

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was set up after a successful judicial review by Salmond resulted in the Scottish Government's investigation being ruled unlawful and "tainted by apparent bias", with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for Sturgeon's resignation, and said: "The committee will publish its findings in the coming days and we will wait for that report. However, we are really only waiting for confirmation of what we already know.

"We have detailed that the First Minister misled the Scottish Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon has not told the public the truth about what she knew and when.

"We cannot set a precedent that a First Minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it.

"We have to trust that the First Minister will be truthful. We no longer can."

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the committee report and we await its findings, but if it does conclude that the First Minister has misled Parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code, then that is incredibly serious."

Speaking to the BBC this morning, UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the ministerial code "is clear that if the code has been breached, the individual should resign".

He added: "It's more than just about Nicola Sturgeon, it's about the integrity of the Scottish Parliament, the integrity of the office of the First Minister and standards in public life.

"The First Minister wrote the foreword to the Scottish ministerial code and she said, and these were her words: 'I will lead by example in following the letter and the spirit of this code.'

"So she set herself high standards, and now she needs to live up to those high standards."