The civil servant in charge of a botched probe into Alex Salmond quizzed police if the Scottish Government could bring a criminal case against him – even if his alleged victims did not want to co-operate.
HR boss Judith MacKinnon also apologised to officers over her “cloak and dagger” behaviour in a series of emails to police at the height of Holyrood’s internal investigation.
Police told Ms MacKinnon, the Head of People Advice at the Scottish Government, “this is not how Police Scotland would ordinarily interact with victims” and warned her over “the levels of discussions taking place” in emails released under FOI laws.
The exchanges were never seen by the parliamentary committee earlier this year as they carried out an invesigation into the governments handling of the case.
Sources close to the ex-First Minister said: “These are extraordinary revelations about a cloak and dagger operation being mounted by the Scottish Government.
“The parliamentary committee that investigated this matter would have wanted to see these emails and there is no indication that they were given to them.
“These emails will add to the already huge ammunition in Alex Salmond’s legal case against the Scottish Government. What they indicate is some sort of secret operation which suggests extreme prejudice against Mr Salmond and substantial malice on behalf of Scottish Government officials.”
The correspondence between Ms MacKinnon and the unnamed Police Scotland officer started in January 2018 when two women came forward to complain to government about Alex Salmond’s conduct.
In December 2017, police had met with Scottish Government officials to discuss its new sexual harassment and misconduct policy, rubber stamped by FM Nicola Sturgeon.
On August 1, before the government’s internal inquiry had even concluded, Ms MacKinnon asked the unamed officer for help on how to make a police complaint and whether the government could do it.
The emails also show that despite previously working for The Scottish Police Authority Ms MacKinnon appeared to have little understanding of legal procedure.
She wrote: “Wonder if you can help – hypothetically speaking of course.
“If, after an internal investigation, the SG [Scottish Government] becomes aware that a member of staff has been the subject of a potential criminal act, can you advise if there is a difference depending on whether the employee reports the issue to the police themselves or the Scottish Government report it on behalf of the employee…”
The police wrote back: “It makes no difference who reports it to police. The employee would be the victim though and the Scottish Government would be the witness.
“I hope this helps but slightly concerned regarding the level of discussion which is clearly ongoing at your end but I guess that will be for Scottish Government to manage and navigate.”
Later that day, Ms MacKinnon wrote: “Can I check one more thing with you? Who makes the decision to press charges?
“If the complainers/victims didn’t want to – could Scottish Government decide they wanted to press charges?
“Or is it down to the Crown Office and PF (Procurator Fiscal)?”
The officer responded: “I would be able to attend and provide advice directly to the victims regarding the full process, should they decide to report, however, I can’t give the victims hypothetical advice.”
A day later Ms McKinnon sent another flurry of emails to police saying she had questions on behalf of the potential victims.
The officer replied: “Providing an email response to any queries the victim(s) have is not how I would conduct this.”
Ms MacKinnon then wrote: “I realise I am being very cloak and dagger about this, but we feel that, for the moment, if we can provide some written responses that would be most helpful at this stage.
“Your offer of face to face contact I am sure, if we go down the route of reporting, will be welcomed, but at the moment the final outcome of the investigation has not been found and the decision for next steps also cannot be made.”
The email chain shows the officer sought advice from a superior officer over concerns a face-to-face meeting with victims was being blocked.
The officer replied: “I have sought advice from DCS[ redacted] as this is not how Police Scotland would ordinarily interact with victims.”
The email chain ends with Ms MacKinnon telling officers she is going on annual leave and they should contact her boss Nicola Richards.
In January, the Holyrood Inquiry set up to look at the government’s Alex Salmond’s investigation into complaints heard evidence from both civil servants who said police involvement had not been the “intention” of the complainants initially.
The government paid out £500,000 in legal expenses to Alex Salmond after admitting its internal investigation of harassment complaints had been flawed.
Ms Mackinnon, 53, was the investigating officer in the probe despite having prior contact with the complainants.
She insisted she acted appropriately, objectively and fairly.
Murdo Fraser MSP, who was on the inquiry, said: “This information reveals another glaring flaw in the government’s disastrous handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.
“Despite all the grave mistakes made during the whole sordid affair, not one person has been sacked. Nobody has accepted responsibility. Nobody has been held accountable.”
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