Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code over her handling of the Alex Salmond harassment case, an independent investigation has found.
The finding was made by James Hamilton, the Scottish government’s independent adviser on ministerial standards.
He had been asked to examine whether Scotland’s first minister “attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation” into Mr Salmond, her predecessor, and if Ms Sturgeon misled the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Hamilton also looked at whether Ms Sturgeon should have recorded calls and meetings with Mr Salmond.
The SNP leader referred herself for investigation by Mr Hamilton in January 2019 after Mr Salmond’s successful legal challenge of the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation into harassment complaints against him, which led to him being awarded £512,250 for legal costs.
The investigation was paused in early 2019 to avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings brought against Mr Salmond, who was later acquitted of all 13 charges – including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape – in March 2020 following a High Court trial.
But Mr Hamilton’s inquiry was then delayed again by the coronavirus crisis, before resuming in August 2020.
The ministerial code is a set of rules about how ministers should conduct themselves.
The code says it is the First Minister who is “the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a minister” and the appropriate consequences for breaches.
Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the “comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal” conclusions.
In a statement, she said: “Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report’s findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.
“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest.
“As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that.
“Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so.
“Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.”