Former first minister Alex Salmond has said allegations of sexual harassment he is facing have no foundation, as he launched legal action against the Scottish Government.
Allegations about his conduct towards two staff members in 2013 – while he was in office – have been handed to Police Scotland.
He described the claims as “patently ridiculous” and said he is making a legal challenge against the Scottish Government to contest the complaints process activated against him.
He said the process was “unjust” and did not allow him to present his case, adding that if his Court of Session challenge is successful, “there would be the most serious questions to ask at the top of the Scottish Government”.
Mr Salmond told the BBC: “I have made many mistakes in my life, political and personal, but I have not sexually harassed anyone and I certainly have not been engaged in criminality.”
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Salmond would not be drawn on the details of the allegations, or on whether he was aware of any other complaints against him.
Asked about his reference to past mistakes during a briefing with reporters, he said: “I’m not going to give you a list of mistakes I think I’ve made. I can’t talk about the complaints (the allegations examined by the Scottish Government), but what I can say is I refute them.”
Pressed further on whether concerns over the nature of his conduct had been raised during his time in office, Mr Salmond said: “I’m here to talk about the complaints that have been made against me, which I refute, and it’s not a question I can answer.
“I’m not going to go into a list of things I did or didn’t do when I was first minister, who I did or didn’t speak to.
“What I can say is the complaints made against me don’t have a foundation and I have never engaged in criminality.”
First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the complaints cannot be “swept under the carpet” despite the difficult situation created for herself and the party.
She said her relationship with her predecessor “makes this an extremely difficult situation for me to come to terms with”, but that due process must be followed.
She said: “This will be extremely upsetting to members of the SNP up and down the country. It’s a difficult situation but what is important is that complaints are treated seriously, regardless of who the person complained about is.
“That is a principle that cannot be applied selectively no matter how difficult that may be for me, my party or for others.”
Please see statement below. pic.twitter.com/LaTKotwdA8— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 24, 2018
Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Government, said an internal review was launched last year into the Scottish Government’s procedures for handling complaints in the workplace in light of wider concerns about harassment at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.
As part of that review, a new procedure on handling harassment complaints involving current or former ministers was introduced.
She said two complaints were raised in January against Mr Salmond and he was notified in March about an investigation.
Asked by the BBC if Mr Salmond is still a member of the SNP, Ms Sturgeon said: “These matters will be considered in the fullness of time.
“This has not been a party investigation, I have limited information, for legal reasons that information I am not able to pass to the party, so the situation will undoubtedly develop as more information becomes available, but I am not able to confirm more than I have at this stage.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We are carrying out an assessment of information which we have received and inquiries are at an early stage.”