THE women whose complaints against Alex Salmond were the subject of a botched Scottish Government probe were reluctant to go to the police because they feared the impact this might have on them, a senior civil servant have said.

Nicola Richards, director of people at the Government, said it was "very clear that it was not their wish, not their preference". 

However she said: "I think they fully understood, and we were always clear, that it might be a judgement as an organisation that we had no choice but to refer the matter to the police."

Judith Mackinnon, head of people advice, said she was asked to "sound out" how the complainers felt about the Government reporting the matter to Police Scotland in 2018.

Ms Mackinnon was the investigating officer (IO) on the Government's probe, which was started in early 2018 after two civil servants made formal complaints against Mr Salmond.

The former First Minister had the findings set aside in a judicial review after showing that the exercise had been unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The Government’s own procedure stated that the IO “will have had no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised”.

However Ms Mackinnon was appointed despite having prior contact with both Mr Salmond’s accusers, who are known as Ms A and Ms B.

Issues around this later led to the Government conceding the case to Mr Salmond and taxpayers were left with a bill of more than £500,000 for his legal costs.

A cross-party committee of MSPs is now looking into what went wrong.

The Scottish Government referred allegations against Mr Salmond to the police in 2018, and he was cleared of multiple sexual assault charges against nine women at the High Court in Edinburgh earlier this year.

Giving evidence to the Holyrood committee for the second time, Ms Mackinnon was asked if she was involved in discussions around the referral to the police.

She said: "At the end of July 2018, after I had submitted the final IO [investigating officer] report to the permanent secretary who was the decision-maker, I was asked to sound out how the complainers felt about the Scottish Government potentially reporting the matter to the police."

She said she spoke to both women and they had questions about the next steps and what would be expected of them. 

Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser later asked if it would be fair to say the complainers were reluctant to go to the police. 

Ms Mackinnon said: "You could say that. I don’t think it had been their intention, when they initially had come forward, to do that.”

Asked if it was fair to say the complainers would not have gone to the police off their own backs, she said: "I can't say that for sure."

Ms Richards later told MSPs: "They were concerned. They were concerned about the impact on them, the potential impact on witnesses and others brought into that process, and they were concerned by the potential loss of anonymity and confidentiality that might come from [a referral to the police]."

Gillian Russell, another senior civil servant who acted as a "confidential sounding board" for staff raising harassment concerns, said she had a meeting with one complainer on November 22, 2017, in which she raised "a series of very significant issues". 

Ms Russell added: "I obviously found what she said to me profoundly difficult, actually."

Ms Russell said she recorded at the time that it "could potentially raise matters of a criminal nature".

Ms Russell was asked if anyone had approached her about the conduct of former ministers since the judicial review.

She said some people came forward in August 2018 when the story about Mr Salmond broke in the media.

Asked if this was about the behaviour of the former first minister, she said: "Yes."

Asked if these concerns were taken forward, she said: "At that point in time, I was quite clear that given there was now going to be a police investigation, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to hear the substance of any issues that people wanted to raise."

She said the "most appropriate thing to do" was to pass on a number the police had provided and reassure them the "organisation was supportive and the police would be supportive".