LABOUR have accused Nicola Sturgeon’s top official of “evasion” after she refused to put a price-tag on the Scottish Government’s failed legal battle with Alex Salmond.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans told the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair that it was “not possible” to provide a final figure that included staff costs.

She said staff, including in-house lawyers, had not logged how much time they spent on the high-profile case. 

The Government has already admitted paying Mr Salmond £512,250 towards his legal costs after he won a judicial review into a botched misconduct probe against him.

Last year, the Government also revealed that it had spent a further £118,523 on external legal fees, including the hiring of respected QC Roddy Dunlop.

However it has not yet spelled out how much was spent tasking its own staff to work on the judicial review, despite being pushed on the matter for the past 18 months.

The cross-party inquiry is looking at how the Government messed up a sexual misconduct investigation it launched into Mr Salmond in 2018 after complaints from two civil servants. 

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review by showing it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The collapse of the Government’s case in January 2019 left taxpayers with an unusually high bill for a share of his costs because it had failed to disclose key evidence. 

Ms Sturgeon told parliament at the time that the inquiry could have whatever material it wanted, but her Government has since withheld evidence and tried to block witnesses.

Deputy FM John Swinney has said it would not be in the “public interest” to share the legal advice involved, despite the loss of over half a million pounds of public money.

The Tories have accused SNP ministers of “indefensible hypocrisy”, as SNP politicians have repeatedly demanded the UK Government publish its legal advice on a range of issues.

Last week, in her second evidence session with the committee, Ms Evans was asked to provide a figure for the total cost of the judicial review, including in-house lawyers, civil servants and senior counsel. 

However in a newly released letter to the inquiry, Ms Evans said: “It is not possible to provide this figure. 

“Dealing with this case was part of the normal range of duties undertaken by a number of different civil servants, including lawyers in the Scottish Government Legal Directorate. 

“Civil servants receive a salary rather than being separately remunerated for dealing with particular matters. 

“In addition, they do not record the proportion of their time that they spend working on particular matters as a matter of course. 

“It is therefore not possible to say how much was paid to lawyers or other civil servants employed by the Scottish Government for dealing with this matter.”

The Government routinely puts an hourly figure on the cost on staff time when calculating how much it might cost to respond to - or refuse - a freedom of information request. 

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who sits on the inquiry, said: “Another letter from the Permanent Secretary to the committee and another exercise in evasion.

“The committee and the general public deserve to know how much taxpayers’ money was frittered away on the judicial review. We know that the cost is in the hundreds of thousands but the true extent has not yet been revealed.

“The cost for external legal advice was £118,000 and that was on top of the £512,000 paid to Mr Salmond and his lawyers. 

“It is not rocket science for the Permanent Secretary to work out the cost to the Scottish Government of the attendance of a number of civil servants at all the meetings about the judicial review.

“So far this investigation has revealed just how ingrained evasion and secrecy is in the Scottish Government.

“If the committee is to uncover the truth about this sorry affair then the evasion and secrecy must end.”

Ms Evans has already apologised to the inquiry for the procedural error behind the judicial review outcome.

The Government's own procedure on handling harassment complaints against ministers and former ministers says the lead invesigating official should be fresh to the case.

However the lead investigating official appointed to look into the complaints against Mr Salmond had already been in prior contact with his accusers, tainting the whole exercise.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser added: "Time and time again, Leslie Evans doesn’t appear to know the answers to many of the serious issues this inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of.

“It is imperative that the Scottish Government are open and transparent with taxpayers who have been left footing the bill for their mistakes.

“It’s simply not good enough to say it isn’t possible to provide the true cost of how much this work cost taxpayers.”


Separately, a senior civil servant have gave evidence to the Inquiry last month wrote to it last night to clarity that he had not heard rumours about sexual misconduct and Mr Salmond.

James Hynd, head of the Government’s Cabinet, Parliament and Governance division, said of the Scottish Government, had agreed with Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton that “things were said” about Mr Salmond’s conduct while he was First Minister, but he did not expand of them or know if they were.

However in a new letter, Mr Hynd said Mr Cole-Hamilton had later “inaccurately” summarised his evidence at a later meeting of the inquiry as being “about bullying or sexually inappropriate behaviour by Alex Salmond and other ministers”.

Mr Hynd denied that, stating: “I wish to be clear that I was not aware of any rumours about ‘sexually inappropriate behaviour’ on the part of Mr Salmond or other Ministers”, thereby implying the rumours were about bullying instead.