A KEY aide to Nicola Sturgeon who had a secret meeting with a woman who later accused Alex Salmond of sexual misconduct is to be grilled by MSPs next week.

John Somers, the First Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, will appear for the first time before the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair on Tuesday. 

Ms Sturgeon’s trusted gatekeeper, Mr Somers is at the heart of one of the most mysterious episodes being examined by MSPs, and his appearance shows the inquiry circling ever closer to the First Minister. 

In late 2017, Mr Somers twice met a female civil servant who would go on make a formal complaint about the former first minister a few weeks later.

At the time, the Government was drafting a new harassment policy in light of the #MeToo revelations and Mr Salmond would be its first subject.

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The Holyrood inquiry is looking at how the Government then botched the probe it launched on the back of that complaint and one from from another civil servant, costing the taxpayer more than £500,000. 

Mr Salmond had the exercise overturned in a judicial review by showing it had been “tainted by apparent bias” from the start because the investigating officer has been in prior contact with his accusers.

His supporters claim he was the victim of a high-level plot to trash his reputation and stop him making a political comeback and rivalling his successor. 

Mr Somers’s meetings were omitted from the initial timelines the Government gave the inquiry. 

Mr Somers had been due to be asked about them in court as part of evidence disclosure for the judicial review, but the Government conceded and he was never questioned. 

Earlier this month, deputy First Minister John Swinney revealed Mr Somers met one of Mr Salmond’s accusers, known as Ms A, on November 20 and 21, 2017. 

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

The day after the second meeting, 22 November 2017, Ms Sturgeon confirmed she wanted the new harassment policy to apply to former as well as current ministers.  

Her formal sign-off, which had existed in draft for several days, was communicated to the Government’s top official, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, by Mr Somers. 

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The Government insists Ms A’s disclosure to Mr Somers “was and remains confidential, and was not discussed with the First Minister” of her chief of staff.

However opposition parties say it would be extraordinary for Ms Sturgeon not to have known.

The inquiry has already said it wants Mr Somers to tell it more about the meetings with Ms A and if others were present.

It also wants to know if Mr Somers had been due to provide and discuss documents at the judicial review hearing which was called off by the Government dropping its doomed defence of Mr Salmond's civil action. 

In his previous letter to the inquiry, Mr Swinney said Mr Somers did “not know the basis” on which he was asked to attend court, as Mr Salmond’s lawyers called him.

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.”