Sturgeon’s husband 'contradicted' her evidence to Alex Salmond inquiry

Opposition MSPs say Peter Murrell’s testimony raises questions over whether first minister broke ministerial code over meeting

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, has been accused of contradicting her evidence to a parliamentary inquiry about her meetings with Alex Salmond to discuss allegations of sexual harassment.

Murrell, chief executive of the Scottish National party, told a special Holyrood inquiry that his wife had met Salmond at their home on Scottish government business and not as SNP leader.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said his testimony on Tuesday “directly contradicted” Sturgeon’s written evidence to the committee, where she said she had met Salmond as SNP leader. Murrell, who has been married to Sturgeon since 2010, replied: “I don’t accept that.”

Opposition MSPs and Salmond believe his evidence strengthens serious questions about whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code – potentially a resignation matter, because she may have misled parliament.

Sturgeon told Holyrood in late 2018 she had met Salmond as party leader. She is already under investigation by Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions, James Hamilton, over whether she interfered with the government inquiry – a claim she has repeatedly denied.

Sturgeon has admitted meeting Salmond at her home in Glasgow on 2 April, where they discussed a decision by senior civil servants to launch a formal internal inquiry into sexual harassment complaints against him, dating to his time as first minister.

The committee heard last month from John Somers, Sturgeon’s principal private secretary, that if it had been an official meeting in her role as first minister, it would have been in her ministerial diary and minuted. But it was not, he said.

Sturgeon has admitted she spoke to Salmond about the inquiry twice before she alerted Lesley Evans, Scotland’s chief civil servant, about those contacts in June 2018, the day before the pair met again.

It has also emerged Sturgeon did not tell parliament she had met Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her first minister’s office four days before seeing Salmond at her home.

In written evidence to the committee, Sturgeon said that meeting – which was also not included in her ministerial diary – “did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature”. Sturgeon said she agreed to meet Aberdein as she had been worried Salmond might resign from the party.

Questioned by Alex Cole Hamilton, a Lib Dem MSP, why Murrell was not told about the meeting given Salmond’s resignation would be a “bombshell” involving a man he worked with closely for decades, Murrell claimed he did not ask what the meetings were about and was not told by his wife.

Murrell said Sturgeon was immensely busy and they did not discuss her duties as first minister. “When she says she can’t talk about something, that’s the end of it,” Murrell told the committee.

Murrell first told the committee he was not at home during the meeting but admitted under questioning from Andy Wightman, a Scottish Green MSP, that he arrived home while it was going on to find three people in their living room, with Sturgeon and Salmond in another room.

It has already been established that the three others were Liz Lloyd, Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Aberdein, and Duncan Hamilton QC, Salmond’s close friend and legal adviser. Murrell told Wightman he said hello and went upstairs for a shower, and did not press his wife on why they were there.

Murrell also told the committee he was aware Salmond could be facing investigations in London involving the Crown Prosecution Service at around the time Salmond first appeared in Edinburgh sheriff court on 14 charges of alleged assault and breach of the peace. Salmond was later acquitted of all the charges.

None of those charges involved alleged offences in London, and the Met police inquiry did not become public knowledge until early 2020. The Met later announced it was not taking any action on those claims.

• This article was amended on 10 December 2020 to restore words which explain that Andy Wightman is a Scottish Green MSP.

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Severin Carrell Scotland editor

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