CIVIL servants who worked for Alex Salmond and his ministers operated in a “culture of fear” because of alleged bullying, MSPs have been told.

The trade union representing senior Scottish Government staff said the issue was raised in vain with successive permanent secretaries, the administration’s top official.

Staff were left feeling “unable to speak truth to power” and did not trust the Government to handle complaints properly or maintain confidentially.

Staff in the former First Minister’s office in particular were said to feel “isolated” and unprotected, but did not raise complaints in case it damaged their career prospects.

The union does not identify other SNP ministers, or say explicitly that Mr Salmond was responsbile for bullying.

However after his recent criminal trial - in which he was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault - it emerged Mr Salmond’s own lawyer had described him as a bully.

Gordon Jackson QC was overheard on a train calling his client “quite an objectionable bully to work with. I think he was a nasty person to work for.. a nightmare to work for.”

When a recording of Mr Jackson’s remarks became public, he stood down as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

The new claims are made in a written submission to the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair, which starts its first hearings next week.

The cross-party committee is looking at how the Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review at the Court of Session, forcing ministers to admit it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” because the lead investigating official had been in prior contact with his accusers.

The collapse of the Government’s case in January 2019 left taxpayers with a £500,000 legal bill for Mr Salmond’s costs, and the Holyrood inquiry is investigating what happened.

It is also examining the “culture” within the Government in recent years.

In its submission to the inquiry, the FDA union, which represents public service managers and senior staff, said it had supported its members over complaints against ministers throughout devolution.

It said that staff had “reported concerns of bullying or inappropriate behaviour of Ministers towards civil servants in all the administrations of varying political colours”.

It said it had worked with other unions and the Government to improve the complaints process, resulting in a new Fairness at Work policy in 2010.

At the time, Mr Salmond had been First Minister for just over three years.

Writing on behalf of his union, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said this “flagship policy” was partly driven by staff concerns about the lack of a formal process to deal with “concerns about the conduct of ministers”.

He went on: “Around this time, the culture within the former First Minister’s Office and other ministerial offices in relation to bullying behaviour became a concern for us and was raised with successive Permanent Secretaries.

“Although action was taken and short-term improvements or apologies were made, this did not bring about an overall change in culture.

“Some civil servants expressed to us that they were operating in a culture of fear and were unable to speak truth unto power and discharge their duties effectively. The culture within the Ministerial offices in the organisation was such that despite the support of FDA, some members made clear to us that they did not trust SG [Scottish Government] to handle complaints effectively or to ensure confidentiality of the complainants.

“They furthermore expressed concerns over the effectiveness of the policies at that time.

“In particular, members in the former First Minister’s office indicated that they felt isolated and out of the policy protection of the rest of the SG.

“Individuals spoke in confidence and did not wish to raise complaints because they thought this may be detrimental to their career aspirations or their current role.”

Mr Penman said the FDA later analysed cases of its members seeking personal support within the Scottish Government, and had reported its findings annually since 2017.

He said bullying and harassment has been top three themes for personal support every year, with annual rises, and an un precedented 45 per cent jump in branch membership since 2017.

Other evidence submitted by the FDA included an internal email looking ahead to a meeting with the current Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans in the wake of the judicial review defeat, which blamed the Government’s human resources department for the outcome.

It said: “General mood in the office is one of anger/despair at the conduct of HR and one of support for Perm Sec, feeling is she has been let down.

“Of course HR reputation is not in a good place anyway so this has just compounded it.”

Mr Salmond was approached for comment last night.