IAN Blackford MP has issued a statement of apology over the Patrick Grady sexual harassment case following a meeting in the Commons with his group of MPs.

In a bid to draw a line under the saga, the SNP's Westminster leader said he "deeply" regretted that a member of the party's staff was "subject to inappropriate behaviour".

The SNP's Westminster group has been in turmoil since the parliamentary authorities published its report last Tuesday into Mr Grady’s behaviour with its MPs divided over how the crisis has been handled.

At the weekend the crisis deepened when a secret recording was leaked to the press of Mr Blackford calling for SNP MPs to support their disgraced colleague. In a further twist the party's chief whip Owen Thompson then threatened whoever had recorded and leaked the meeting's proceedings with criminal prosecution.

Mr Blackford's apology was issued tonight after a short meeting with MPs and amid speculation that his handling of the situation had prompted questions among the group over whether he should continue in his role as leader.

"As SNP Westminster leader, I have a duty of care to all of our staff. That is why I deeply regret that a member of staff was subject to inappropriate behaviour. It was completely unacceptable and should never have happened. I am sorry that it did," he said.

"Staff must have full confidence that the group takes complaints seriously. In this case, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme investigated what happened. We respect and accept that independent process."

He added: "More than that, however, staff have a right to feel fully supported when a complaint is made. I regret that the complainant does not feel that this is the case.

"The way that this situation has played out publicly over the last few days, including recordings from the parliamentary group, has caused distress to the complainant amongst others and I am sorry that is the case.

"We will consider all lessons that must be learned to make sure staff have full confidence they will receive the support they need. As such, I am initiating an external review of support available to staff, to sit alongside the independent advice service and independent complaints process. 

"Raising complaints of this nature is never easy, and I am determined that staff have the support they need."

Mr Blackford will appear in public for the first time tomorrow since the secret recording emerged when he quizzes Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.

It is unclear whether his apology will be enough to stop speculation over his leadership of the SNP's Westminster group.

Tonight the Scottish Conservatives called again for Mr Blackford to stand down. 

Party chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “It’s astounding that it took Ian Blackford this long to realise he should apologise.

“The SNP Westminster leader has shown appalling judgement and is only now saying sorry in a desperate bid to save his own skin.

“His credibility is in tatters and he must go, so that no victim is ever let down this atrociously again.”

Last night, one SNP MP issued a lengthy written statement and apologised after previously agreeing with Mr Blackford after had urged colleagues to “rally round” Mr Grady. And earlier yesterday another SNP MP criticised the party’s complaints and disciplinary processes.

The SNP Westminster chief faced his MPs at 6pm in Commons committee room 21 with the statment of apology issued by Mr Blackford through the party's press office at 6.39pm.

One insider had earlier told the Herald this morning: "The mood has been unpleasant for months, years really. It's a vicious enivronment." 

Mr Grady’s victim, an SNP member of staff who was 19 at the time of the incident in 2016, raised the possibility of legal action against the party yesterday.

He said last week he was not been supported and was left isolated by members of the Westminster group.

At the same meeting, which was recorded last week, SNP MP Amy Callaghan and colleague Marion Fellows also threw their weight behind Mr Grady.

Ms Callaghan told the group: “I think we should be rallying together for this campaign, but also regardless of our position on Patrick’s situation, we should be rallying together around him to support him at this time as well.

“I don’t think we are very good as a party at supporting each other and I think we should be making sure that he feels supported at this point, so if we can all reach out to him, or do so if you feel able to, we should probably be doing that.”

In a statement posted on Twitter late yesterday afternoon she apologised.

“This can and should only start with a wholehearted apology to anyone – especially survivors of harassment – who has been hurt or triggered as a result of this week,” she wrote.

“Whilst I can’t forgive myself for how inappropriate it was for me to frame my input in this way, I owe everyone, not least survivors and my constituents, an explanation:

“I am both sorry and ultimately take full responsibility for my words, as insensitive, poorly-worded and misplaced as they were.

“I’m taking full accountability for the hurt and disappointment I’ve caused, not least of all to those directly impacted by sexual misconduct in this case.

“Survivors must be supported. I should have prefaced my comments and reiterated this throughout my contribution. I believed I was in a situation where my support of survivors was implied.

“I was wrong. This isn’t good enough. My comments without this context absolutely warrant the upset they have causes. I am truly sorry.

“As a party we are clearly falling short in supporting complainants.”

Mr Blackford is heard saying in the leaked recording: “I think most of you know how I feel about Patrick and I would encourage the group to deliver as much support as possible.

“And let’s look forward to next week, he is going to face a number of challenges over the short term and he has our absolute full support. And I for one, very much looking forward to welcoming Patrick back into the group next week.”

The SNP MP Joanna Cherry yesterday criticised the party’s complaints system. The intervention by the party’s former justice and home affairs spokeswoman came after members of the group were threatened with prosecution by its chief whip over the recording and leaking of the meeting.

“I wasn’t at the SNP Westminster group meeting last week. I don’t condone the covert recording or leak. However, for some time the SNP has had significant problems in how it handles complaints," she tweeted.

"My party needs to reflect on the contrast between the treatment of different ‘offenders’ and to review our arrangements for the pastoral care of complainers.”

In their report parliament’s sleaze watchdog, the Independent Expert Panel, said Mr Grady “made a sexual advance to the complainant” which was “clearly sexual in intent and manner, and clearly inappropriate.”

He has apologised to the Commons for his behaviour and has been suspended by the parliamentary authorities for two days. The SNP have withdrawn the party whip from him for the same period.