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‘No records exist’ of Sturgeon meeting with lawyers over Salmond

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood - Credit: PA

Records of meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and lawyers about the investigation into Alex Salmond cannot be found, John Swinney has insisted.

The deputy first minister has told the Holyrood inquiry into the government’s unlawful investigation of Salmond that he is unable to provide details that the committee had asked for.

Swinney, who is facing a vote of no confidence after refusing parliament’s demands to release legal advice for almost four months, had said the government did not record minutes of meetings with permanent secretary Leslie Evans and the Scottish government’s legal counsel about the former first minister.

The current first minister and Evans, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, held meetings with external legal advisers about the judicial review on November 2 and November 13 2018, according to evidence provided to the committee.

MSPs have asked the government to release the official records of the meetings, but Swinney has insisted the government “have not identified any record of minutes having been prepared or previously held”.

He added: “Officials have identified a small number of contemporaneous email exchanges referencing these meetings.

“This includes exchanges following the meeting on 2 November and emails ahead of the meeting on 13 November 2018, attended by the first minister and permanent secretary.

“These exchanges make clear that the focus of the meetings was on discussing and agreeing with external counsel adjustments to the pleadings for the judicial review. ”

Swinney said the government would “urgently” make checks on court orders and data compliance and then try to publish the email exchanges “as soon as possible this week”.

The committee is meeting to discuss the legal advice, and whether it has sufficient information.

A motion of no confidence in the deputy first minister is expected to be debated in parliament this week.

When Swinney first confirmed that no minutes could be found for the November meetings, Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: “I’ve acted as counsel for the Scottish Government. At consultations, everyone takes notes.

“It is inconceivable these minutes don’t exist.”

Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints had also asked Swinney about any external legal advice received after the Lord Advocate wrote on December 31 2018 about conceding the case.

Swinney said that although there had been “extensive engagement between counsel and Scottish government lawyers” in early January 2019, there were no formal written notes.

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