NICOLA Sturgeon confirmed a new harassment policy should apply to former ministers just 48 hours after one of Alex Salmond’s accusers made a secret “disclosure” to her private office.

The First Minister’s principal private secretary received the sensitive information from a female civil servant who later filed a misconduct complaint against Mr Salmond.

John Somers met the woman on two consecutive days, and on the third day Ms Sturgeon formally agreed that a new Scottish Government complaints policy to apply to “former ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party”.

Ms Sturgeon said the policy should “not be constrained by the passage of time” and stressed she wanted the “particular aspect” of retrospective coverage included.

The Tories said the timing was "murky" and demanded Ms Sturgeon explain why she hadn't told parliament about the meetings involving her principal private secretary.

The information, revealed by the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, will fuel suspicions the complaints policy was tailored to fit Mr Salmond, something the government has denied. 

A senior source claimed it was "inconceivable" Ms Sturgeon hadn't known of a complaint brewing against Mr Salmond when the complaints procedure was signed off.

However the Government denied Mr Somers discussed Ms A's disclosure with Ms Sturgeon or her chief of staff.

In a letter to the inquiry, deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed that Mr Somers met one of two women who lodged complaints against Mr Salmond in January 2018.

He said Ms Sturgeon’s gatekeeper had met Ms A on November 20 and 21, 2017.

He said: “At the first meeting, Ms A made a disclosure to Mr Somers. No-one else was present at either meeting.”

Mr Swinney, who is not allowed to reveal Ms A's complaint against Mr Salmond, did not say what the disclosure was. 

The day after the second meeting, 22 November 2017, Mr Somers sent Scottish Government Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans a letter from Ms Sturgeon with her instructions for a new procedure covering harassment complaints.

The work had been underway for several weeks following the #MeToo revelations and complaints of sexual misconduct surfacing against senior politicians at Westminster.

In the letter, Ms Sturgeon made clear she wanted the policy to apply to former, as well as current ministers.

She wrote: “I wanted to make clear that in taking forward your review, and the new arrangements being developed, you should not be constrained by the passage of time. 

“I would like you to consider ways in which we are able to address if necessary any concerns from staff - should any be raised - about the conduct of current Scottish Government Ministers and also former Ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party. 

“While I appreciate that the conduct of former Ministers would not be covered by the current Ministerial Code, I think it fair and reasonable that any complaints raised about their actions while they held office are considered against the standards expected of Ministers. 

“I would be grateful for confirmation that this particular aspect is being included as part of the review you are leading.”  

Although the letter's text had existed in draft for several days, it was not confirmed until the day after Mr Somers met Ms A a second time.

The insistence on the policy covering former ministers was despite the UK Cabinet Office raising a warning about the idea while it was still in draft form a few days earlier. 

On 17 November 2017, an unidentified person in the Cabinet Office emailed a senior official in the Scottish Government to say they felt “very uncomfortable to be highlighting a process for complaints about Ministers and former ministers”.

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

The former FM had the whole 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 Scottish Government admitted defeat 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 his letter, Mr Swinney said Mr Somers had not been “involved in the development of the [complaints] procedure or the complaints handling process”, and had not met the other woman who would go on to file a complaint against Mr Salmond, who is known as Ms B.

It emerged last month that Mr Somers had been due to be questioned by Mr Salmond’s lawyers in court as part of a document disclosure for the judicial review process.

He and Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd would have been quizzed about the meeting between Mr Somers and Ms A, but the Government conceded before it could happen.  

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

In his letter, Mr Swinney said Mr Somers did “not know the basis” on which he had been asked to attend court in late 2018, as he was requested by Mr Salmond’s lawyers.

He said: “On 21 December 2018, after a search of documents Mr Somers produced (within Scottish Government) two calendar entries for the 20th and 21st November 2017 and confirmed those meetings were with Ms A. 

“He produced these diary entries on the same day he was asked to perform the search; which was also the first time he was asked to perform that search. 

“At the first meeting, Ms A made a disclosure to Mr Somers. No-one else was present at either meeting. Mr Somers has never met Ms B Mr Somers was not involved in the development of the procedure or the complaints handling process.”

Mr Swinney also intervened to answer questions the inquiry directed last month to Ms Lloyd, asking why she hadn’t mentioned her cancelled court date in her written evidence.

He said: “Miss Lloyd does not have information on the Commission [for documents] process as she was on leave and did not receive a citation requiring her to attend it. 

“Miss Lloyd had no involvement and has no knowledge as to why her attendance as a haver [a possessor of documents] was suggested. 

“The identification of potential havers of information was a matter for Levy & McRae [Mr Salmond’s lawyers].”

Mr Swinney also complained in his letter at the way some MSPs were grilling witnesses.

He asked inquiry convener Linda Fabiani to address his “continuing concerns about some interactions between civil servants and Committee members at the Committee”. 

These included officials having their privacy infringed, not being given relevant documents or time to locate their own, and being asked questions that ministers should be answering.

In a coded threat to withdraw cooperation, he had a “duty of care” to consider.

Mr Swinney said: “Scottish Ministers have a duty of care for civil servants employed by the Scottish Government. 

“While the normal rules that usually govern the way we work together are not observed by all Committee Members, the ability of Ministers to discharge that duty of care for these witnesses is jeopardised. 

“In light of these continuing issues, I would be grateful again for your assistance in ensuring that all Committee Members follow the Parliament’s and this Committee’s rules for the appearance of civil servants as witnesses.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the inquiry, said: "The First Minister must reveal why she didn’t tell Parliament before now that her chief personal civil servant held these meetings.

“They have only come to light through Alex Salmond’s lawyers, and John Swinney’s letter shows that the government are still only providing tiny scraps of information.

“We know there was a 'disclosure' but that’s as far as it goes. We need Mr Somers to clarify if he was told about these concerns and if he ever mentioned them, even in passing, to the First Minister before she claims to have found out on 2 April, 29 March or whatever date Nicola Sturgeon is now using.

“The First Minister has questions to answer about the timeline of events, given that her closest civil servant received this 'disclosure' in the days before his boss asked that the procedure apply to former ministers.

“The amount of information that is still being kept secret is astonishing. Who knows what else is hidden in the SNP’s vaults.

"The timeline they’re claiming is growing murkier.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The disclosure to Mr Somers was and remains confidential, and was not discussed with the First Minister or the Chief of Staff. 

"The First Minister has set out to Parliament when she was informed of information in relation to the complaints.

"As the First Minister has made clear, she looks forward to giving evidence in person to the committee in due course, and is awaiting a date from the committee to do so.”