NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted an investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code is free to look at Alex Salmond’s bombshell claim she misled parliament.

The First Minister said the independence adviser on the code, former Irish prosecutor James Hamilton, had confirmed as much in a letter to her deputy.

She told MSPs that Mr Hamilton felt there was “no limitation on his ability” to investigate the code. 

Her officials tonight released the letter from Mr Hamilton, in which he said he was "minded" to include the FM's statements to parliament "within the scope of my report".

Ms Sturgeon's announcement followed Mr Salmond accusing her of repeatedly misleading the parliament in a recent written submission to Mr Hamilton.

The seven-page letter, which was shared with the Holyrood inquiry into Mr Salmond’s legal fight with the Scottish Government, also criticised Mr Hamilton’s original remit.

The inquiry and Mr Hamilton are both looking at events related to the Scottish Government’s botched probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

The former first minister had the exercise set aside in a judicial review by showing it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government error that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill.

After the Government’s defence of the civil action collapsed in January 2019, Ms Sturgeon revealed she had three meetings and two calls with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated by her officials.

She said these were in her capacity as SNP leader, so no Government officials were present or minutes taken.

The opposition claim she broke the ministerial code by failing to report the contacts fully and timeously to her officials - Ms Sturgeon only reported the first meeting at her home on 2 April 2018 to the Government’s top official on 6 June, ahead of another meeting with Mr Salmond.

Mr Salmond alleges Ms Sturgeon also broke the code by misleading parliament about the nature of the meetings, claiming she knew full well they were not party business.

He said she had even helped arrange the 2 April meeting four days previously, in a prelimary meeting on 29 March in her Holyrood office with Mr Salmond's former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein, on the clear basis that Mr Salmond intended to discuss the Government probe.

He said she had made statements to the Holyrood chamber and the inquiry that were “untrue”.

Breaking the code is considered a resignation matter.

After Mr Salmond’s claims emerged last week, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory MSPs on the inquiry urged John Swinney to direct Mr Hamilton to include them in his ongoing investigation.

But Mr Swinney refused to do so, prompting claims he was “blatantly blocking” a line of inquiry which could show if Ms Sturgeon committed a career-ending offence.   

READ MORE: Salmond affair - John Swinney refuses to expand ministerial code probe into First Minister

Mr Salmond has long claimed the deputy FM’s original remit was a "straw man" designed to find Ms Sturgeon innocent of a largely irrelevant issue related to civil servants. 

However Mr Hamilton now appears to have come to the Government’s rescue by clarifying that he does consider he can consider the new accusations - although that does not necessarily mean that he will do so.

At FMQs, Tory MSP Oliver Mundell asked: “If the First Minister has nothing to hide, why won’t she explicitly expand the ministerial code investigation to cover all of the accusations that have been made against her?

“There is a big difference between saying there are no limits on what James Hamilton can look at and explicitly asking him to examine specific possible breaches.” 

READ MORE: Alex Salmond seeks delay in giving bombshell Nicola Sturgeon claims under oath

Ms Sturgeon replied: “The deputy First Minister has actually notified me this morning that Mr Hamilton has written to him confirming, in his view, all of the allegations  - incidentally all the allegations I completely refute about breaching the ministerial code - are covered within the scope of his existing remit.

“I said previously that I wanted him to go wherever he thought appropriate to go, and as I understand he has now confirmed that he feels there is no limitation on his ability to do that.

“I hope that the member will accept that and people will allow due processes to take their course, rather than making their minds up before we even get to that.”

In his letter to Mr Swinney, written on Monday, Mr Hamilton said he had been contacted by the opposition MSPs and asked to consider whether the First Minister broke the Code "in relation to reporting to the Parliament of meetings between herself and Geoff Aberdein".

He went on: "Having considered the evidence submitted to me by various participants, and the issues raised on this topic, I consider that the issue of reporting of meetings by the First Minister to the Parliament on a broad view appears to be within the scope of the remit but even on a narrower view is so closely connected to the remit that I am minded to include this within the scope of my report.

"I also wanted to note that I consider the allegations made by Mr Salmond concerning whether or not the First Minister should have intervened to arrange a process of mediation [in relation to the misconduct complaints] to be within the scope of the remit.

"I thought it appropriate to communicate this view to you before replying to the MSPs in case you wish to make any observations on the matter."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Mr Hamilton has informed us of his intention to address in his report a number of points that have been raised with him by some MSPs and by the former First Minister.   

"That is entirely within his existing remit.  

"As the Deputy First Minister advised Parliament last year, in response to a parliamentary question, Mr Hamilton is free to consider evidence on any aspect of the Ministerial Code that he deems to be relevant.”