HUMZA Yousaf has described the sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond as “utterly heartbreaking”.

The Justice Secretary said the former first minister encouraged him to stand for election and had shown him many “kindnesses” over the years.

But he insisted his own feelings must be separated from “due process”.

Mr Salmond is being investigated by police after two civil servants raised complaints about his behaviour dating back to his time in office.

He is currently preparing to take the Scottish Government to court over the way it handled the allegations.

In an interview with Holyrood magazine, Mr Yousaf was asked how the revelations had affected him.

He said: “Personally, heartbreaking is the right word, and without going into the veracity of what’s being said, just what has happened is personally, utterly heartbreaking, and all of us round that cabinet table, we all have personal stories of how Alex has influenced us.

“I don’t think anyone will feel it as much as Nicola [Sturgeon] feels it but all of us have stories to share.”

Mr Yousaf, who was first appointed to a government role under Mr Salmond, said the former first minister encouraged him to stand for election following the death of Nationalist MSP Bashir Ahmad.

He said Mr Salmond was “revered” in the Scottish Pakistani community.

He said: "Alex’s speech is what got me into the SNP. In 2009, after Bashir died, he encouraged me to stand.

“In 2011, he gave me my first government role. He mentored me throughout that period, and there were many kindnesses he showed me and my family. Many kindnesses to us and to my community.

"If you talk to my community, the Scottish Pakistani community, about Alex Salmond, he is revered in that community. No ifs or buts about it.

“He would attend an event and Alex could not leave for hours because people would want pictures with him, talk to him, give him food and he was just a hero.

"So, on a personal level, it’s utterly heartbreaking but you must, we must, separate that from the due process.

“We’ll be judged by how that process is seen to be transparent, open and fair and holds to account, regardless of who the complaints are being made against.

"The seniority or the party affiliation of that person should play no part in how that due process works.”

Mr Yousaf also spoke of the personal and professional difficulties he faced while transport minister.

In 2016, he faced sustained criticism over ScotRail’s performance and was later caught driving a friend’s car without insurance.

He said it was an “honest mistake” following the breakdown of his marriage.

Speaking to Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said it was “easily for me the most difficult year of my life”, during which he dropped to just nine and a half stone in weight.

He added: “I had faced some negativity before but nothing as intense as what happened in 2016 and with the ScotRail issues running over a four to five-month period, it seemed to go on for ever.

“It’s very hard, you know, people calling for your head and all that kind of thing and it was really, really challenging. I was even getting death threats.

“I think honestly the only way I got through it, and I’m sorry for the clichés, but it was with the support of loved ones and colleagues.”