NICOLA Sturgeon has claimed she failed to tell MSPs about an explosive meeting about Alex Salmond and sexual misconduct because she had “forgotten” about it.

The First Minister said the meeting featured “allegations of a sexual nature” and left her feeling her predecessor was “in considerable distress” and might well resign from the SNP.

The former First Minister also wanted to speak to her “urgently about a serious matter”.

However, despite the far-reaching implications and the potentially seismic effect on her party and Government, Ms Sturgeon claimed the meeting later slipped her mind.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Sturgeon 'forgot' Salmond meeting.Camley's Cartoon: Sturgeon 'forgot' Salmond meeting.

“For context, I think the meeting took place not long after the weekly session of FMQs and in the midst of a busy day in which I would have been dealing with a multitude of other matters,” she said. 

The Scottish Tories said it was a "pile of nonsense".

It was only after she had told the Scottish Parliament, on 8 January 2019, about a series of other meetings involving Mr Salmond and sexual misconduct claims that Ms Sturgeon said she was later “reminded of it”, either in late January or early February 2019.

It was not until August this year that the Scottish Government formally confirmed the first meeting had taken place - after it had been raised at Mr Salmond’s separate criminal trial. 

Ms Sturgeon’s failure to mention the meeting to Holyrood has prompted criticism from opposition parties, who consider she may have misled parliament.

The cross-party inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government’s botched an in-house probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018. 

Mr Salmond had the exercise overturned in a judicial review at the Court of Session, forcing ministers to admit the process was “tainted by apparent bias”.

The collapse of the Government’s case left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for Mr Salmond’s costs, and the Holyrood inquiry is now investigating what happened. 

After the Government’s retreat in January 2019, the First Minister told MSPs that she had been in contact with Mr Salmond five times while he was being investigated by her officials.

She said he had told her himself about the Scottish Government’s probe on 2 April 2019 at a meeting at her Glasgow home, and that she had met him again on 7 June 2018 at the SNP conference in Glasgow, and for a second time at her home on 14 July 2018.

She said she had also talked to him by phone on 23 April and 18 July 2018.

However it emerged during Mr Salmond’s later criminal trial - at which he was acquitted of 13 counts of sexual assault in March - that there had been another relevant meeting.

Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, said he had met Ms Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament on 29 March 2018, four days before she met Mr Salmond at her home.

This meeting was never mentioned by Ms Sturgeon.

In her written evidence to the inquiry, which was published this morning, Ms Sturgeon said it was the meeting at which Mr Salmond told her he was under investigation that was always “significant in my mind”.

She wrote: “As has been reported already, four days earlier - 29 March 2018 - I had spoken with Geoff Aberdein (former Chief of Staff to Alex Salmond) in my office at the Scottish Parliament. 

“Mr Aberdein was in Parliament to see a former colleague and while there came to see me. 

“I had forgotten that this encounter had taken place until I was reminded of it in, I think, late January/early February 2019. 

“For context, I think the meeting took place not long after the weekly session of FMQs and in the midst of a busy day in which I would have been dealing with a multitude of other matters.

“However, from what I recall, the discussion covered the fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter, and I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature. 

“Around this time, I had been made aware separately of a request from Mr Aberdein for me to meet with Alex Salmond. 

“The impression I had at this time was that Mr Salmond was in a state of considerable distress, and that he may be considering resigning his party membership. 

“However, while I suspected the nature of what he wanted to tell me - for reasons set out below - it was Alex Salmond who told me on the 2 April that he was being investigated under the Procedure - and what the detail of the complaints was.

"It is this meeting - due to the nature of the information shared with me at it - that has always been significant in my mind.”

Scottish Conservative spokesman on the Alex Salmond inquiry, Murdo Fraser MSP, said: “Now we know why the SNP won’t release all the key documents to the inquiry.

“The scraps of evidence they have provided are damning enough to show Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament and Peter Murrell sought to pressure police to act against Alex Salmond.

“The SNP’s excuses are incredible and simply beyond belief.

“We are expected to accept that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister renowned for her grasp of detail, has the memory of a sieve when she’s told that her mentor of 30 years is facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

“A meeting that would be seared in most people’s memory was immediately forgot all about.

“She then went on to meet with Mr Salmond again and again, on what was clearly government business, all while pretending it was solely about the SNP.

“It’s hard to know what’s more shocking – this evidence, the fact they think we’ll believe this pile of nonsense, or that this is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s only what the SNP are willing to let us see.

“It’s now a matter of fact that the First Minister misled parliament. She did not find out on 2 April and she did not find out from Alex Salmond.”

Labour MSP Jackie Bailie said: “The First Minister’s evidence to this committee raises many questions and could be described as having as many holes as a swiss cheese.

“Despite senior figures in the SNP knowing of the alleged incident at Edinburgh Airport as early as 2008, the First Minister claims to have asked the First Minister about the veracity of the allegations in late 2017.

“Was this because she ignored the allegations at the time or is it because the information had been sat on by other senior figures in the SNP, including her husband?

“It is also worth noting that the First Minister states that there would be no need for the harassment policy had it not been for the alleged actions of Alex Salmond. How does that fit with the claim that the policy was drafted in response to the #MeToo movement?

“Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence to the committee will be considered in due course, but what her evidence has exposed is the blurring of lines between the Scottish Government and the SNP, and the fact that they seem to live in each other’s pockets.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said:  “This evidence from the First Minister raises a number of issues for the committee to consider. 

“We need to know why Alex Salmond got the impression that the First Minister would assist him after their initial meeting and what that meant. 

“This is also the first time that we’ve understood that there was an offer on the table of independent arbitration which could have helped to resolve the issues at hand with a fraction of the cost and embarrassment that the Scottish Government eventually endured. 

“Alex Salmond’s messages are clear that his legal advisors considered his case at the judicial review to be a slam dunk. Surely that should have been sounding alarm bells in the Scottish government. Instead they ploughed ahead at huge cost to the taxpayer. 

"The First Minister expects the public to believe that her husband knew Alex Salmond was visiting their home but didn't discuss it with him at all, even though it was a matter which she admits could cause a media storm for her party.

"I understand the difficult personal and professional questions these events have raised for the First Minister but this is a submission which leaves the committee with more questions than answers. She should expect to face more detailed questions in person."