ALEX Salmond was known for “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” while First Minister, his former top official has told a Holyrood inquiry.

However Sir Peter Housden refused to tell MSPs whether he had spoken directly to Nicola Sturgeon about that same conduct.

He said he was bound by a civil service code of confidentiality not to disclose who he spoke to, although it would have been normal to speak to another senior politician.

Sir Peter stressed there had been no “formal” complaints against any minister in the Scottish Government while he was its Permanent Secretary from 2010 to 2015.

However he confirmed that he was aware of “concerns” about Mr Salmond’s conduct.

He said: “I  knew that the former First Minister could display bullying and intimidatory behaviour, yes.

“Bullying and intimidatory behaviour, I knew he could display those behaviours.

"I knew the situation we were dealing with.”

Sir Peter said he did not witness any bullying by Mr Salmond, but was “well aware” from conversations with his principle private secretary and others that it occurred.

He said he had never heard any suggestion of sexual misconduct involving Mr Salmond.

He said Mr Salmond's office usually ran very well, and staff were highly motivated and excited to be there, but this was occassionally "punctuated" by issues with his conduct.

Sir Peter said “deeply committed” staff were often “forgiving” of poor behaviour because of the pressure on ministers.

However he also said a “gross imbalance of power would make it very likely that people would be very thoughtful about coming forward”.

He also said his physical proximity to the FM’’s private office in St Andrew’s House made a difference to his knowledge, as their open plan office was “literally across the corridor”.

He said: “I knew a good number of those people and I had very regular, weekly conversations at least, with the principle private secretary.

“Always we were talking about the arrangements to support the First Minister and the cabinet in the discharge of their duties.

“The principal private secretary and I talked all the time about how well we were doing that.

“If you had bullying and intimidatory behaviour, ere was a clear signal that something was not working for somebody, and probably indeed for both parties.

“So did we talk about that? Yes we did, and we talked a lot about the measures that would ameliorate it, both for the individuals and indeed for the First Minister, to smooth things along to work better.

“Again, just to give a sense of frequency here, for much of the time, that office, that operation, the whole show ran really well, with great energy and great motivation on both sides. 

“So the normal diet was of pace, excitement, things happening, things being fixed, on we go. 

“You’re all familiar with how political environments work. They’re very energising places to be.

“But they were punctuated by these kind of behaviours that were a problem in the way I’ve described. Did I know about this? Yes, I did.”

He said he did not tell his successor, the current Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, about Mr Salmond's conduct as there had been no formal complaints, indications of sexual misconduct or a "known egregious act".

By the time of the handover, Mr Salmond had also resigned as FM in the wake of the No result in the 2014 independence referendum.

Sir Peter said: "As far as I knew I had no bodies buried. There was nothing in my secret box that I must pass on to the new permanent secretary." 

Sir Peter said he had no access to Scottish Government documents and was therefore relying on his memory of “events and circumstances a number of years ago”.

The cross-party committee of inquiry is examining the Scottish Government’s botched in-house harassment probe into 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”.

The collapse of the Government’s case in January 2019 left taxpayers with a £500,000 legal bill for Mr Salmond’s costs. 

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 counts of sexual assault in March this year, but evidence emerged of inappropriate and drunken behaviour with female staff.

SIr Peter had already told the inquiry last month in written evidence about poor ministerial behaviour.

He said then: “Where there were individual Ministers whose behaviour was a cause for concern, the expectation was that the Permanent Secretary would manage these situations without recourse to formal procedures. 

“Confidentiality requirements preclude me from sharing the particulars my experience but I took actions on these lines in a number of settings.”

As Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton peppered Sir Peter with questions about Mr Salmond's conduct, he was stopped by SNP convener Linda Fabiani.

She told him: "We are not putting Mr Salmond on trial here."

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: "The former Permanent Secretary may not have been willing to go into specifics, but the First Minister now simply has to following his comments.

“As a matter of urgency, Nicola Sturgeon must confirm if she was spoken to by the most senior civil servant about serious harassment claims within the Scottish Government.

“With each passing week, more and more questions are being raised about what Nicola Sturgeon knew and when during this period.”

Labour inquiry member Jackie Baillie added: "The appearance of the former Permanent Secretary before the committee today confirmed what we already knew: bullying was endemic in the Scottish Government and the civil service.

“What is all the more interesting is the level of communication regarding this between Sir Peter Housden and senior ministers.

“It is clear that many of those currently at the heart of the Scottish Government were aware of the concerns being raised at the time.

“If this committee is to fulfil its purpose, it is vital that those who now find themselves at the very heart of the Scottish Government disclose in full their recollections from the period in question.”