NICOLA Sturgeon has responded in person for the first time to claims from Alex Salmond that she repeatedly misled parliament.

The First Minister said she “did not consider” that she had misled parliament, but it would ultimately be for others to judge.

Mr Salmond has claimed some of her evidence to MSPs was "false and manifestly untrue".

Asked at the daily coronavirus briefing about the potentially career-ending accusation, Ms Sturgeon said she would “set out my recollection of events and my account of events”.

People would then “draw their own conclusions”, she said in a tense exchange with Sky News reporter James Matthews.

Responding to a later question from The Herald, Ms Sturgeon insisted she was not distracted by the row. 

She added: "I'm focused 100 per cent on steering the country through the pandemic.

"That is my absolute responsibility right now and that's what I'm going to focus on."

She said she took nothing for granted in terms of the trust of the Scottish public.

It followed Mr Salmond claiming in a submission shared with a Holyrood inquiry that Ms Sturgeon misled parliament about her contacts with him while he was being investigated by her officials over alleged sexual misconduct in 2018.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she had met Mr Salmond at her home on 2 April 2018 in her capacity as a party leader - meaning no Government officials were present or minutes taken.

However Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon arranged the meeting four days earlier, on March 29, in her Holyrood office with his former chief of staff, and it was clear that the meeting would discuss the Government’s misconduct probe.

Ms Sturgeon later said she “forgot” the March 29 meeting as it had been a busy day at Holyrood, despite its explosive content.

She is currently being investigated by an independent adviser to see if she broke the ministerial code by failing to tell officials timeously about the meetings. 

Asked at the daily briefing whose recollection of the March 29, 2018 meeting was correct - hers or Mr Salmond's - the First Minister tried to focus on the pandemic.

She said: “These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee on inquiry and also by an independent adviser on matters relating to the ministerial code.

“I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries, and people will draw their own conclusions.

“I am not... It’s very important that I answer any questions that are levelled to me before these inquiries. I’m open to full scrutiny.

“I do not consider that I misled parliament but of course that is for others to judge.

“At all times I will seek to put the interests of the  country first.

“That’s the most important thing for any First Minister. 

“And right now the most important thing I have to do for the country is steer us through this pandemic.”

Pressed on why she wouldn’t use the briefing to discuss a matter of “extreme public interest”, she said: “I don’t refute the public interest or the importance of these matters but this [the briefing] is an opportunity - it has been since March last year - for me to brief the country on Covid. There are other forums where I will answer publicly.

“There are inquiries underway.

"I think it is right and proper, out of respect to those inquiries, and, actually, out of fairness to myself, to have the opportunity at those inquiries to set these matters out, properly and fully, and not do it as an adjunct to a briefing on a global pandemic that I am seeking to steer the country through.”

The Holyrood inquiry is looking into how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review by showing it was flawed from the start and “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government error that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.

After the Scottish Government’s defence of the judicial review collapsed collapsed in January 2019, the First Minister revealed she had three meetings and two phone calls with her predecessor while he was being investigated.

She insisted these were taken in her capacity as "party" leader, and were not government business.

However the former first minister said his successor repeatedly misled parliament on this, and that she knew - indeed, helped arrange - the first, April 2 meeting in the full knowledge that it was to discuss the government probe.

He said in his submission: "In her written submission to the Committee, the First Minister has subsequently admitted to that meeting on 29th March 2018, claiming to have previously ‘forgotten’ about it.

"That is, with respect, untenable.

"The pre-arranged meeting in the Scottish Parliament of 29th March 2018 was 'forgotten' about because acknowledging it would have rendered ridiculous the claim made by the First Minister in Parliament that it had been believed that the meeting on 2nd April was on SNP Party business and thus held at her private residence.

"In reality all participants in that meeting were fully aware of what the meeting was about and why it had been arranged.

"The meeting took place with a shared understanding of the issues for discussion - the complaints made and the Scottish Government procedure which had been launched.

"The First Minister’s claim that it was ever thought to be about anything other than the complaints made against me is wholly false." 

If true, this would mean Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by deceiving parliament.

It would also indicate she became involved in the Government probe, despite insisting she had stepped back from any involvement in case it looked as if she was taking sides.

Mr Salmond has said he is prepared to repeat his claims in person to the inquiry under oath.

In a statement last week, Ms Sturgeon's spokespeson said: “The First Minister entirely rejects Mr Salmond’s claims about the Ministerial Code.

“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was First Minister, aspects of which he has conceded.

"It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the First Minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories. 

“The First Minister is concentrating on fighting the pandemic, stands by what she has said, and will address these matters in full when she appears at committee in the coming weeks.”