NICOLA Sturgeon’s private secretary twice met a female civil servant shortly before she made an official sexual misconduct complaint against Alex Salmond.

John Somers was due to be questioned in court about the meetings, but the Scottish Government conceded its legal fight with the former first minister before it could happen, it has emerged.

Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, had also been due to be questioned, but that too was called off.

The meetings between Mr Somers and Mr Salmond’s accuser were only revealed after the Scottish Government belatedly released documents it had failed to produce previously despite a court order.

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In new evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, Mr Salmond’s lawyer also reveals the Government produced material just last week that should have been disclosed almost a year ago, during preparations for Mr Salmond's separate criminal trial.

The inquiry is investigating how the Scottish Government botched a probe into claims of sexual misconduct made against Mr Salmond in January 2018.

The former FM had the exercise set aside in a judicial review, showing it had been “tainted by apparent bias”, leaving taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs.

The Government admitted defeat in the civil action in January 2019.

Mr Salmond’s supporters claim he was the victim of a political conspiracy by Government and SNP figures to stop him making a comeback and rivalling his successor.

In a letter shared with the inquiry, Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie of Levy & McRae, explained why Mr Somers was relevant to a a series of court hearings in late 2018 at which documents were recovered from the Government and officials asked about them.

He said: “Documents appeared from the Scottish Government which had previously not been produced, despite a Court ordering that they be so. 

“Some of those documents confirmed that one of the complainers had met with the Private Secretary to the First Minister on two occasions in November 2017. 

“On the second occasion, another individual was also present. The identity of the second individual is not known to us. 

“It was Senior Counsel’s intention to ask that question of the Chief of Staff, Liz Lloyd and the Private Secretary, John Somers, when those witnesses came before the [court]. 

“Before either could give evidence, the petition was conceded by the Scottish Government.”

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In another letter sent to the Scottish Government yesterday, Mr McKie also complained about the very late appearance of an annex attached to the Government's latest timeline of events “purporting to be a note from James Hynd”, the official who helped draft a new Government harassment procedure in late 2017 which was then applied to Mr Salmond.

The note refers to the all-important Paragraph 10 of the procedure, which was at the heart of Mr Salmond’s judicial review win.

The paragraph states that the investigating officer in any case “will have had no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised”.

However the Government appointed an investigating officer (IO) who had been in prior discussion with Mr Salmond’s two accusers.

It was this prior involvement which gave rise to the appearance of bias in the probe. 

In the note, dated 2 November 2018, during the judicial review process, Mr Hynd argued Paragraph 10 was “not meant to preclude an IO being appointed who had some foreknowledge of the circumstances of the complaint as long as that foreknowledge would not compromise the IO’s ability to be an impartial collector of facts, and as long as the IO had no direct involvement in the matter around the time it occurred.” 

Mr McKie told the Government: “This document does not appear to have been disclosed to us at any stage. That was clearly within the terms of the warrant served on the Scottish Government in November 2019. Please provide an explanation for its omission. 

“Our client’s whole rights are meantime reserved, including the right to raise this matter with the crown.” 

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This is an absolutely extraordinary attack from Mr Salmond’s lawyers on the government’s failure to disclose documents and their secretive approach to this inquiry.

“We’ve now heard of even more information that the SNP Government tried to keep hidden. “They apparently didn’t reveal a key document that should have been disclosed.

“And it’s the first time we’ve heard of secret meetings between Nicola Sturgeon’s trusted civil servant and private secretary, John Somers, and one of the people who reported Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour to the government.

“The government must come clean if Mr Somers knew of these complaints in November 2017 and tell us about the other official who was in the second meeting.

“These explosive letters have uncovered yet more secret meetings and information that the SNP Government tried to cover up. It seems they will stop at nothing to keep their mistakes quiet.”

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “The publication of letters from the lawyers representing Alex Salmond have effectively thrown the gauntlet down to the Scottish Government, challenging them to disclose information in relation to the judicial review. 

“The Scottish Government need to get on with it and publish their legal advice otherwise they will be forced to do so.” 

Shortly after Mr Salmond won the judicial review he was wcharged with sexual assault, leading to a trial earlier this year at which he was acquitted on all counts.