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Sturgeon accused of breaching ministerial code over meetings with Salmond

NICOLA STURGEON is facing her worst crisis in office so far, after she was accused of breaching the ministerial code over meetings with Alex Salmond.

The Scottish government today insisted that meetings between the First Minister and her predecessor were not “government” but “party” meetings.

This is in spite of a rendezvous being arranged by a government employee, who sat in on the discussion, and concerning the government inquiry into Mr Salmond.

The former first minister was the subject of two sexual harassment complaints last year. He denies any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, the Scottish government shut down its internal probe after Mr Salmond successfully mounted a legal challenge over the inquiry procedure. But he remains the subject of a police investigation.

Ms Sturgeon has stated that she discussed the allegations with Mr Salmond in three meetings and two phone calls.

She says that she first learned of the allegations at the first meeting, which took place in April at her house. The meeting was attended by her chief of staff Liz Lloyd, but no minutes were taken and she did not inform any other government officials.

The FM’s spokesman said Ms Sturgeon did not inform Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, about the contents of the first meeting because she did not want to “even inadvertently” interfere in the investigation into Mr Salmond.

At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon defended Ms Lloyd’s attendance on the basis she is “a special adviser who also has the ability to assist me in party matters.”

But Labour said she should refer herself to the panel, which adjudicates on breaches of Scotland’s ministerial code.

The rules state that when ministers “find themselves discussing official business” with external parties “without an official present... any significant content” should be reported back to their private offices “who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded.”

Ms Sturgeon informed Ms Evans of her knowledge of the complaints in a letter the day before the second meeting, which took place at the party conference in Aberdeen in June.

Her spokesman said she used this meeting to “reiterate” she would not get involved.

In a letter to Ms Sturgeon today, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said she “must now refer yourself to the panel of independent advisers to the code.”

He added: “Even if you continue to refuse to accept that you have breached the letter of the ministerial code, it is self-evident that you have breached its spirit.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this case are two courageous women who put their faith in a system that has badly let them down.”

Ms Sturgeon said she would consider any requests to refer herself to the authorities, but her spokesman confirmed she does not accept she breached the code.

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