Nicola Sturgeon did not breach ministerial code, inquiry finds

22 March 2021, 16:41 | Updated: 23 March 2021, 09:10

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Nicola Surgeon did not breach the ministerial code following allegations she failed to record meetings with Alex Salmond and others in 2018, an independent inquiry has found.

James Hamilton QC's investigation, published on Monday, examined whether Scotland's first minister "attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation" into Mr Salmond and if she misled parliament.

It also examined the allegation that Ms Sturgeon misled parliament in relation to the meetings, again finding there was no breach of the code.

The 61-page report said: "I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters."

Mr Hamilton, the former director of public prosecutions in the Republic of Ireland, is the independent advisor to the Scottish Government on the ministerial code - a set of rules about how ministers should conduct themselves.

Ms Sturgeon always denied breaching the code.

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An independent inquiry has found that Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code
An independent inquiry has found that Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code. Picture: PA

Ian Blackford, Westminster group leader for the SNP, said he was "delighted that Nicola Sturgeon has been exonerated by James Hamilton".

He tweeted: "She has shown strong leadership through a challenging time and is worthy of the trust the voters in Scotland have put in her."

SNP President Michael Russell tweeted: "The Hamilton report alone should make any motion of no confidence tomorrow not just irrelevant but malevolent if the Tories persist with it.

"I hope they will put Parliament and the Scottish people before their (shrinking) political gallery."

Responding to the investigation, Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the "comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal" conclusions.

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In a statement, she said: "Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report's findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.

"I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest. As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that.

"Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton's independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so. Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise."

The First Minister added that she was determined to "not intervene in the process" at the request of Mr Salmond.

She said: "Today I want, once again, to remind people that at the heart of this case were women who had the courage to come forward and complain. That they were let down by the Scottish Government's handling of their complaints is not in dispute, and I again apologise to them for that.

"I was determined, however, at the time these complaints emerged that they should not be swept under the carpet, and that I would not intervene in the process.

"Had I done so, as requested by Alex Salmond, it would - as Mr Hamilton observes - 'undoubtedly have been seen as a partisan and political interference' which 'would undoubtedly have undermined public confidence in the processes of government to a much greater extent than in fact eventually happened'."

She referred herself following Mr Salmond's successful legal challenge of the Scottish Government's unlawful investigation into harassment complaints against him, which led to him being awarded £512,250 for legal costs.

Mr Hamilton's investigation was paused in early 2019 to avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings brought against Mr Salmond.

He was acquitted of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, in March 2020 following a High Court trial.

Mr Hamilton's inquiry was delayed again by the pandemic, before resuming in August 2020.

Speaking outside her Glasgow home on Monday morning, Ms Sturgeon said: "I'm going to do what I've done every day for the last year - lead the country through a pandemic."