THE Scottish Government’s top official has defended referring sexual misconduct complaints about Alex Salmond to prosecutors despite the complainers fearing “retribution”.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she was “really affected” by statements two civil servants gave to a Government probe into the complaints and had a “duty of care” to them.

However she also defended referring the complaints to the Crown Office, who then passed them to Police Scotland, against the women’s express wishes.

She said: “It was against the wishes of the complainers, I understand that.

“I understand they were concerned about a loss of privacy, about media coverage, about how they might be required to revisit events they would rather not.

“I know that they feared some backlash and criticism and retribution from some quarters in public, but also from some individuals. 

“So it was not something that I took lightly by any means.” 

Ms Evans also defended meeting one of the women in March 2018, after she had made an initial decision that a preliminary investigation into the complaints should be expanded.

She told Mr Salmond about the complaints and the Government’s probe on March 7, which she said was a day “or even hours” after her meeting with the complainer.

She said there was nothing in the Government’s harassment complaints procedure barring her from meeting a complainer, and stressed she had already taken a decision to proceed with the next stage of the investigation. 

However it was not Ms Evans’s last decision on the probe, which she took in August 2018, when she decided which complaints should be upheld against the First Minister.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond affair: Nicola Sturgeon's top official Leslie Evans denies hiding 'smoking gun' evidence

The same month, Ms Evans’s decision report was passed to the Crown Office, leading to a criminal investigation.

Mr Salmond was tried at the High Court on multiple charges of sexual assault last year against nine women and cleared on all counts.

Mr Salmond’s supporters claim Ms Evans and others at the top of the Government and the SNP were out to get Mr Salmond - something Ms Evans denies.

Giving evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, Ms Evans said she could still recall reading the witness statements against Mr Salmond.

Describing her role as the Deciding Officer in the probe, the person who would decide whether the complaints should be upheld, she said: “I needed to really approach this with an open mind and to exercise the acute responsibility with great care and  in doing so... really hold up to the light and interrogate the robustness and the quality and the appropriateness and the detail of the evidence that was being presented to me.

“To look at the full text, which had not been filtered in any way, but the full text of witness statements that were presented to me on both sides.

“Secondly, I had to decide and look at each complaint and allegation individually.

“I had to decide on the basis of the witness information and other evidence, did this particular complaint and allegation merit being upheld or not.

“Finally, the other areas that I was drawing on were the definitions of harassment, as in the equality legislation, and particularly about whether atmospheres were being created of an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating or offensive environment.

“I needed to take into account the context of the complaint, most importantly the kind of working environment and the professional relationship between the individuals involved.

“I can still remember reading about these allegations, personally, very clearly. 

“I was really affected by them, really affected by them.”

HeraldScotland:

The 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 seat 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.

Earlier, Ms Evans defended the Government passing her final decision report to prosecutors despite the women’s fears that they would be targeted.

Questioned by Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell about going against the women’s wishes despite her duty of care to employees, Ms Evans said the Government’s procedure on handling harassment complaints allowed for such a move if potential criminality was involved.

She said: “It was against the wishes of the complainers, I understand that. The decision to refer the matter to the Crown Office was consistent with the [complaints] procedure.

“But... we had to balance the legal advice given to me as the person who was going to take this decision, and the careful consideration of the views of the complainers. 

“It was very carefully weighed up by me. I was particularly concerned, and took some time, to find out if we could possibly allay some of the complainers’ concerns about a potential referral to the police.

“But of course I had also to bear in mind the potential criminality and the advice I was being given on this, about potential criminality of these allegations.

“Now I absolutely understood and recognised the concerns and the anxieties by the complainants. This is documented.

“I understand they were concerned about a loss of privacy, about media coverage, about how they might be required to revisit events they would rather not.

“I know that they feared some backlash and criticism and retribution from some quarters in public, but also from some individuals.

“So it was not something that I took lightly by any means. 

“But you’ll be aware in the procedure it does say the Scottish Government may decide to refer a complaint to the police even if the complainer does not want it.

“But you should tell the person if you intend to do this, and that is what occurred.”