Jackie Baillie says settling Salmond case ‘could cost almost £1m’

Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, with Nicola Sturgeon
Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, with Nicola Sturgeon.
Baillie 9
Jackie Baillie says Salmond settlement’s out of order.

Taxpayers face footing a bigger bill than originally thought to settle a legal tussle with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s former first minister.

The Scottish government spent more money on outside legal advice as they scrambled to finalise a deal on court expenses for Mr Salmond.

The former SNP leader received £512,000 of public money to cover costs after a botched investigation into complaints of sexual harassment against him. A Labour MSP said that the total bill could be close to £1 million.

The Scottish government had said that it had spent an additional £118,523 on external lawyers before its failed defence against a judicial review brought and won by Mr Salmond, 64.

It has now emerged that, despite having a team of internal solicitors, outside expertise was again sought during a dispute over what percentage of Mr Salmond’s costs should have been paid by the government. At the time it was suggested that an independent third party be brought in to rule on the disagreement.

“The Scottish government legal team represented the Scottish government in this process, and they also engaged law accountants to provide additional external expert advice,” Mr Swinney said.
“There was no need to have the account taxed by the Auditor of Court, and thereby incur additional expense, given that agreement was reached.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, was told of the outcome after the settlement had been reached, he added.

Ministers admitted in court in January that an investigation of two complaints of sexual harassment against Mr Salmond, made last year, was bungled by its team. Mr Salmond described the complaints, which dated to his time as first minister, as “patently ridiculous”.

The Court of Session was told that Judith MacKinnon, the lead investigating official, had weeks of contact with complainants. This rendered the process unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias”, the court ruled.

Separately, Mr Salmond, who was first minister between 2007 and 2014, appeared at Edinburgh sheriff court in January charged with 14 offences including sexual assault and two of attempted rape. He denies criminality.

A Holyrood committee, which was set up after the judicial review to investigate errors in the government investigation and is separate from the continuing criminal proceedings involving Mr Salmond, has questioned the openness and frankness of senior officials. Last week the committee agreed to write again to Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, to seek further information about expenditure.

Ms Baillie, who is a member of the committee, said: “The costs incurred by the Scottish government, both internally and through engaging external advice, could well take the total to nearer £1 million. What a shocking waste of taxpayer money.”

The government was unable to provide further information.

In 2015 the government admitted to spending £1,680 on law accountant fees as part of a near-£20,000 attempt to hide legal advice on an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU despite knowing all the while that the advice did not exist. Mr Salmond had stated the government had such advice.

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