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Alex Salmond inquiry says Nicola Sturgeon misled committee

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A majority of MSPs on the Alex Salmond committee have said Nicola Sturgeon misled their inquiry, sources have told the BBC.

It is understood MSPs on the committee voted by five to four that Ms Sturgeon gave them an inaccurate account.

The committee’s final report is expected to be published next Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon told Sky News that she stood by all of the evidence she gave to the committee earlier this month.

She added: “What has been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up before I uttered a single word of evidence. Their public comments have made that clear.

“So this very partisan leak tonight before they’ve actually finalised the report is not that surprising.”

“Let’s wait and see the final report, but more importantly the question of whether or not I breached the ministerial code is being considered independently by James Hamilton and I hope and expect he will publish that report soon.”

Mr Hamilton, a senior Irish lawyer, has been specifically examining whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, which says that any minister who knowingly misleads parliament would be “expected to offer their resignation”.

His inquiry is separate from the committee and is also expected to publish its report in the coming days.

The cross-party committee includes four SNP MSPs, two Conservatives, one Labour, one Liberal Democrat and independent Andy Wightman.

A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament said the committee was still finalising its report, and it would not make any comment until it was published.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond – her predecessor as first minister and SNP leader – have both taken part in lengthy evidence sessions in front of the committee in recent weeks.

Mr Salmond claimed to have been the victim of a “malicious scheme” drawn up by figures within the SNP who are close to Ms Sturgeon.

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But Ms Sturgeon told the inquiry that any suggestion there had been conspiracy were “absurd”, and insisted she had not been out to “get” Mr Salmond.

She told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that Mr Salmond and his “cronies” In the “old boys’ club” had been spinning “conspiracy theories” which opposition politicians had bought into.

It came after Conservative MP David Davis – a longstanding friend of Mr Salmond – used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to read out messages that he suggested showed a “concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints” against the former first minister.

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Analysis box by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political editor

Misleading parliament is a serious matter. If done so knowingly by a minister it is a breach of conduct rules for which they would be expected to resign.

But don’t assume Nicola Sturgeon will be forced out by what this committee appears to have concluded.

She stands by her evidence and thinks the opposition majority on this committee have reached a partisan conclusion to damage her ahead of the election.

SNP members on the inquiry dissent from the majority, which no doubt opposition politicians will also consider partisan.

There is, however, a more independent adjudication to come from James Hamilton – the Irish lawyer who advises the first minister on code of conduct.

Not only will he decide if Nicola Sturgeon has broken the rules but he is entitled to recommend sanctions if she has.

It would be difficult for her to dismiss his findings but her future as first minister will most likely be determined by voters, when they give their verdict in the election.

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The committee has been examining the Scottish government’s botched investigation of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond that were made by two female civil servants.

It was set up after a judicial review found that the government investigation had been unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The government had to pay Mr Salmond’s legal fees of more than £500,000.

Mr Salmond was later cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault against a total of nine women after a separate criminal trial last year.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “We cannot set a precedent that a first minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it.

“We have to trust that the first minister will be truthful. We no longer can.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it would be “incredibly serious” if the committee concluded that the first minister had misled parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code.

He added: “This is about the integrity of our Scottish Parliament and upholding standards in public life.”

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