THE fall-out from the attempt to damage First Minister Nicola Sturgeon blew up in the face of Westminster yesterday when it was revealed a Scotland Office official wrote a "false" memo claiming she wanted David Cameron to remain prime minister.

The leaked UK government document alleged the first minister had "confessed" to the toxic political claim, but the suggestion was denied by the two French diplomats who were in the room with her.

Pierre-Alain Coffinier, France's consul general in Edinburgh, told this newspaper he had told a "friend" at the Scotland Office about the Sturgeon meeting, but refused to name them.

The UK's most senior civil servant launched a probe yesterday after Sturgeon demanded an inquiry into how a "second hand and inaccurate account" of the meeting came out.

The row was triggered after an account of a February meeting between Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, France's ambassador to the UK, was leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

The memo was written by an unnamed UK government official and was based on a conversation with Coffinier, who had attended the meeting.

It said Sturgeon "confessed that she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM" and claimed she "didn't see Ed Miliband as PM material".

The allegation is politically explosive as Sturgeon has repeatedly said she wants to see Miliband as prime minister, not Cameron.

However, the memo came with a caveat: "I have to admit that I'm not sure that the FM's tongue would be quite so loose on that kind of thing in a meeting like that, so it might well be a case of something being lost in translation."

Within hours, the claim fell apart as the key figures at the meeting denied that Sturgeon had backed Cameron.

Coffinier told Sky News Sturgeon had not expressed a preference about the election outcome, while a spokesman for Bermann told the BBC the SNP leader had not given a view on who she wanted as prime minister.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald at the French Consulate, Coffinier said he told an official at the Scotland Office about the meeting.

He ruled out Scotland Office director Francesca Osowska, but said: "It was one of her colleagues. I'm not wanting to disclose [who] because it's not in the Press."

Told other parts of the UK Government were blaming the Scotland Office, he said: "I'm not going to help them to get one of my friends, because these people are my friends, to help pin it down on him - or her."

Asked how the memo came into the public domain, he said: "That you have to ask the Scotland Office."

Shown the section of the leaked memo regarding Sturgeon's views on Cameron and Miliband, he said: "Well, yes, that is not accurate."

Asked if any of it was accurate, he said: "I'm not going to disclose that. My comment is very clear. There has been no preference expressed regarding the outcome of the elections."

Asked if he regarded himself as culpable for giving an inflated or inaccurate account to the Scotland Office, he said: "Not in the slightest."

A spokeswoman for the FCO denied all knowledge of the memo: "We are not aware of this document.".

A UK government source then referred the Sunday Herald to the Scotland Office.

After this newspaper left a message for a press officer at the Scotland Office, he wrote in an email, saying: "We don't comment on leaked documents."

Asked whether the Scotland Office had produced the memo, or leaked it, the spin doctor did not respond.

Sturgeon said she would be writing to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the UK Civil Service, about the row.

She said: "This story has already been shown to be 100 per cent untrue - having been comprehensively rejected by both the French Ambassador and Consul General.

"The real issue is how a second hand and inaccurate account of this meeting - which was not even attended by the UK government - came to be written by a UK government civil servant and then leaked to Tory-supporting newspapers at the start of a General Election campaign.

"It suggests a Whitehall system out of control - a place where political dirty tricks are manufactured and leaked.

"And the Foreign Office now appears to be denying the very existence of such a document.

"I am therefore writing to the head of the UK civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, requesting an urgent inquiry into the circumstances of such a false account being leaked for transparently political motives."

Although Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy pounced on the reported claims yesterday, party MSP Malcolm Chisholm criticised the original story saying he was "appalled by the Daily Telegraph and hope they and everyone else learn lessons from it."

Until Parliament was dissolved, the Scotland Office was led by Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister Alistair Carmichael and his Tory understudy, David Mundell.

A Scottish Tory spokesman said: "First he [Mundell] knew of the story was reading it on Twitter last night."

A spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, asked whether Carmichael had any knowledge of the memo, said: "Alistair did not know anything about the memo until it was brought to his attention by the Telegraph."

Heywood, in response to the First Minister's call for an inquiry, said yesterday: "You have asked me to investigate issues relating to the apparent leak of a Scotland Office memo that forms the basis of this morning's Daily Telegraph story.

"I can confirm that earlier today I instigated a Cabinet Office-led leak inquiry to establish how extracts from this document may have got into the public domain. Until that inquiry is complete I will not be making any further comment either on the document or the inquiry."

Meanwhile, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has confirmed thatmemo was written in the Scotland Office

Mr Carmichael denied he leak was embarrassing for the government department, stating "this is the middle of an election campaign, these things happen".

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has ordered an inquiry into how the note - which claims that Ms Sturgeon told ambassador Sylvie Bermann that she would prefer to see Conservatives remain in power after the May 7 General Election - got into the public domain.

The First Minister described the allegation as ''100% untrue'', while French officials said Ms Sturgeon did not express a preference for prime minister.

The Scottish Secretary confirmed the memo was written in the Scotland Office during an interview with Channel 4 News.

Asked if the "buck stops with him when it comes to the Scotland Office", he said: "Of course - as Secretary of State for Scotland I am responsible for the Scotland Office, but you know you seem to be making some fairly substantial presumptions about the role of the Scotland Office in this.

"That's why we're having a proper inquiry conducted by the Cabinet Office."

Asked if the incident was embarrassing for him and for the Scotland Office, he replied: "No look this is the middle of an election campaign, these things happen.

"I understand that the memo in question did actually come from the Scotland Office, but these things are circulated within government."