Nicola Sturgeon has released WhatsApp messages she sent to Alex Salmond in a bid to find out about sexual misconduct claims made against him at Edinburgh Airport.
The electronic messages have been disclosed to the Salmond inquiry following claims they had been withheld from the investigation.
The three messages were sent on November 5 and 6 2017 when Ms Sturgeon became aware of a press query from Sky News concerning allegations about Mr Salmond’s behaviour at the airport.
In her original submission, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP had received a query from Sky News “about allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond”.
She spoke to Mr Salmond about the allegation and he denied it. Sky did not run a story at that time.
Edinburgh Airport ‘incident’
In the past Ms Sturgeon has said she first became aware of a Scottish Government internal investigation into Mr Salmond’s behaviour when he came to her house on April 2 2018 and told her.
But the Holyrood inquiry has heard the more general question of Mr Salmond’s behaviour was raised in early November 2017 when the first minister learned Sky News was investigating an “incident” at Edinburgh Airport.
A screenshot just submitted to the inquiry by Ms Sturgeon shows that at 08.50 on November 5 2017, Ms Sturgeon messaged Mr Salmond to say: “Hi – when you free to speak this morning?”
Mr Salmond replied: “10 am”. Later that day, at 18.58, Ms Sturgeon asked: “Any developments?”
The following day (November 6) at 17:29, she asked: “You free for a word?”
In a document accompanying the messages, Ms Sturgeon said she was arranging a discussion about the Sky News query.
On November 9, Ms Sturgeon WhatsApped Mr Salmond to make a remark about his decision to host a weekly political discussion programme on Kremlin-backed RT, formerly Russia Today.
Her message was redacted on the grounds that it was not relevant to the Salmond inquiry – as was the former first minister’s reply.
Mr Salmond then sent a message the same day at 23.18, saying: “Ps the other matter is done and dusted with source identified.”
In her document accompanying the WhatsApp messages, Ms Sturgeon assumed that remark related to the Sky News query.
Last month it was reported that those WhatsApp messages had been withheld from the inquiry and Mr Salmond’s lawyers wrote to the Holyrood committee, offering to provide their content.
Shortly afterwards, Ms Sturgeon went on Sky’s Sophy Ridge show and read out the messages, arguing that they contained an “oblique reference” to the Sky News query but the messages were “not a big revelation”.
She also said the messages reflected her “incredulity” that Mr Salmond should be appearing on RT.
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who sits on the Salmond inquiry, said he was “frustrated” the messages relating to RT had been redacted.
Mr Cole-Hamilton argued that Mr Salmond’s decision to broadcast on RT was a “catalyst” for his deteriorating relationship with Ms Sturgeon.
“I think their relationship up to and around the handling of the complaints is absolutely key to our understanding of her involvement,” Mr Cole-Hamilton said.
Mr Cole-Hamilton went on to refer to an interview Ms Sturgeon gave to the BBC’s Andrew Marr shortly after allegations first emerged against Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon was asked by Mr Marr if she had heard any stories about Mr Salmond before it broke in the press. She replied: “Absolutely not.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It has always sat very uncomfortably with me that she told Andrew Marr on national television that before the government complaints came to light she had no prior concerns about his behaviour yet she now admits she knew about the airport complaint in 2017.”
Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 sex offence charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March.
The court case followed a legal battle in which he was awarded more than £500,000 when the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled a Scottish Government investigation into his conduct was unlawful and tainted with apparent bias.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The first minister stands by what she has said to parliament and by her written evidence to the committee, and looks forward to answering questions at the committee when they decide to ask her to appear.”