NICOLA Sturgeon misled parliament, a Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair has concluded, while her Government's handling of harassment complaints was "seriously flawed".

In a damning 192-page report, MSPs on the committee also condemned the Scottish Government's "prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful"defence of legal action taken against it by Mr Salmond, and insisted those responsible should be held accountable.

The findings are separate from those of Irish lawyer James Hamilton, who reported on Monday that there had been no breach of the Ministerial Code by the First Minister over her role in the saga.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon cleared of breaking ministerial code over Alex Salmond affair

The Holyrood inquiry singled out Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, for heavy criticism.

A Government spokesman insisted she would not be resigning, but that "lessons will be learned".

The committee was looking at at how the Scottish Government bungled its probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

The former First Minister had the exercise set aside in a judicial review after the Government conceded it had been "tainted by apparent bias" because of prior contact between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complaints.

Mr Salmond was awarded a maximum payout of £512,250.

Some of the committee's findings, such as its conclusion that Ms Sturgeon had misled parliament, were leaked last week.

MSPs on the cross-party investigation ruled Ms Sturgeon gave "an inaccurate account" of a meeting with Mr Salmond.

Their report said: "The committee notes that there is a fundamental contradiction in the evidence in relation to whether, at the meeting on 2 April, 2018, the First Minister did or did not agree to intervene.

"Taking account of the competing versions of events, the committee believes that she did in fact leave Mr Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene."

It added: "Her written evidence is therefore an inaccurate account of what happened, and she has misled the committee on this matter."

The inquiry said this was a potential breach of the Ministerial Code, but also agreed Mr Hamilton's report was "the most appropriate place" to rule on such matters.

The four SNP committee members did not agree with the finding that Ms Sturgeon misled the committee, but were outvoted by the two Conservatives, one Labour, one Liberal Democrat and independent MSP Andy Wightman.

The committee also found it "hard to believe that the First Minister had no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond prior to November 2017", as she claims.

Meanwhile, it said it was "concerned" over the length of time it took Ms Sturgeon to inform the Permanent Secretary of her meetings with Mr Salmond.

Again, the four SNP members disagreed with both these findings.

The committee found the Scottish Government's handling of the complaints was "seriously flawed".

The Herald: Committee convener Linda FabianiCommittee convener Linda Fabiani

Convener Linda Fabiani said: "I have always been clear that at the heart of this inquiry are two women who made complaints of sexual harassment.

"These women were badly let down by the Scottish Government, but they have also been let down by some members of our committee.

"I am truly dismayed by the hurt some of the committee leaks will have caused them. I apologise to them unreservedly. This is not who we should be as a committee of this Parliament.

"Our inquiry was a chance to reflect on what went wrong with the Scottish Government processes and ensure that the failings these women experienced never happen again.

"There are undoubtedly some extremely serious findings in our report and it was clear to the committee that there were serious flaws made in the Government’s application of its own process."

The inquiry concluded that the Scottish Government was responsible from an early stage "for a serious, substantial and entirely avoidable situation that resulted in a prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence" of the civil case.

MSPs unanimously agreed that the failure to identify Ms Mackinnon's prior contact was "astonishing" and said she appeared to have two roles in the process: "One as the investigating officer and one as a source of support to the complainers."

Had the government identified all relevant documents and complied with its duty of candour "fully and promptly" early in the process, the "fatal" flaw could have been "brought to the fore", the committee said.

It said Ms Evans was one of the few people who had been aware of the prior contact.

It added: "It must be questioned why the Permanent Secretary in her role and with her knowledge did not ensure that the relevant information was extracted and processed at a much earlier stage. This individual failing is as significant as the general corporate failing already described."

The committee said its work had been hindered "by the Scottish Government's failure to produce key documents which were of interest to us until a very late stage in the inquiry".

It made a series of recommendations in an attempt to give future complainants confidence in the process and prevent similar mistakes.

Going further than the review of the current complaints procedure by Laura Dunlop QC, it said the Scottish Government should consider introducing independent investigations for complaints about current ministers, as well as former ministers as Ms Dunlop recommended.

Condemning the repeated obstructions, delays providing information and often extensive redactions, the committee also concluded that the Scottish Parliament "may have insufficient powers to hold the executive to account".

It recommended the creation of a commission to review the relationship between the government and the legislature.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the Government would "learn lessons" from the report.

He said: "The Scottish Government has acknowledged that it made mistakes and that these led to the judicial review being conceded, and I know that this had a real, and damaging, impact for the women who raised the complaints. We have apologised for this and we do so unreservedly again today."

Mr Salmond, who was cleared of sexual assault charges last year, is expected to make a statement tomorrow.