Civil servant says she forgot receiving Salmond 'war' message from Sturgeon's top mandarin

Dan Sanderson
·4 min read
Barbara Allison, Director for Communications, Ministerial Support & Facilities at the Scottish Government, gives evidence at Holyrood to a Scottish Parliament committee examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond  - Jane Barlow/PA
Barbara Allison, Director for Communications, Ministerial Support & Facilities at the Scottish Government, gives evidence at Holyrood to a Scottish Parliament committee examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond - Jane Barlow/PA

A senior civil servant has claimed she deleted and then forgot about a crucial text message from Nicola Sturgeon’s chief mandarin which allies of Alex Salmond believe is evidence of a high-level conspiracy against him.

Barbara Allison had denied under oath that she had received a message from Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, sent the the day Mr Salmond won a judicial review which ultimately cost taxpayers more than £500,000, at an earlier evidence session.

However, she claimed on Tuesday that this had been an “unintended inaccuracy” and she had received it after all.

The text read: “Battle maybe lost but not the war.”

She is the latest witness to claim to not have remembered crucial details about the episode, with Nicola Sturgeon also accused of having experienced “sudden memory loss” over a meeting with Mr Salmond's former aide which she failed to disclose to Holyrood.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon were once close allies but are now bitter rivals - Jane Barlow/PA
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon were once close allies but are now bitter rivals - Jane Barlow/PA

It also emerged yesterday that the flawed policy used to investigate Mr Salmond, the application of which he successfully challenged in court, remains in force.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the LibDem MSP, said the development was “frankly astonishing” and risked a repeat of a “half million pound mistake”.

Ms Allison, the Scottish Government’s director of communications, wrote to the committee on Monday - the day before she was due to give evidence for a second time - to say she had received the message from Ms Evans.

She said the message had been retrieved from her phone by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Service, which provided her with details of it.

Ms Evans texted the government official while she was on holiday in the Maldives and said: "Thanks Barbara - battle maybe lost but not the war. Hope you are having lovely & well deserved break. L."

Pressed by MSPs yesterday, she said she could not recall what she had sent Ms Evans to elicit the response.

She said: "I don't routinely keep all my texts. I will clean out texts, so yes I must have deleted some texts.

"I don't remember getting Leslie's reply, so I don't remember the discussion."

Leslie Evans admitted sending the message but said it had been misinterpreted - Pool/Getty
Leslie Evans admitted sending the message but said it had been misinterpreted - Pool/Getty

Ms Evans denied being "at war" with Mr Salmond when she previously gave evidence and claimed the text message from her was "misinterpreted".

Ms Allison sidestepped questions about what she understood "the war" meant, but pointed to Ms Evans's evidence where she claimed it referred to equality and staff being heard.

Mr Salmond’s allies believe he was the victim of a politically-motivated plot, aimed at preventing him from making a political comeback. After he won the civil case, he was cleared of all criminal charges at his trial in March.

A row over the release of documents is ongoing, with Mr Salmond’s lawyers yesterday accusing the Scottish Government of attempting to smear their client by seeking to release information about the original complaints looked at by the discredited investigation.

The former First Minister’s lawyers also accused the Scottish Government of defying a court order to release documents, some of which they said confirmed that one of the complainers had met with the Private Secretary to Ms Sturgeon on two occasions in November 2017.

They said in the second meeting, “another individual was also present” whose identity is not known. Ms Sturgeon has claimed the first time she became aware of the specific complaints into Mr Salmond was when he told her about the investigation at his house in April 2018.

Murdo Fraser, a Tory member of the committee, said: “This is an absolutely extraordinary attack from Mr Salmond’s lawyers on the government’s failure to disclose documents and their secretive approach to this inquiry.

“And it’s the first time we’ve heard of secret meetings between Nicola Sturgeon’s trusted civil servant and private secretary, John Somers, and one of the people who reported Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour to the government.

“The government must come clean if Nicola Sturgeon’s private secretary, John Somers, knew of these complaints in November 2017 and tell us about the other official who was in the second meeting.”