Nicola Sturgeon has insisted it is “downright wrong” to suggest the Crown Office’s intervention in the redaction of Alex Salmond’s evidence was politically influenced and questioned his reason for pulling out of a planned Holyrood appearance.

Mr Salmond was due to give evidence in person on Wednesday to the parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

The former first minister asked to delay his appearance after his already-published written evidence was belatedly redacted by parliament on Tuesday following an intervention by the Crown Office – the body responsible for prosecuting crime in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor said the Crown Office’s decision to write to parliament – purportedly seeking redactions over contempt of court fears – was “astonishing” and asked his lawyers to seek answers about the “unprecedented and highly irregular actions”.

Asked about the saga at the daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said: “Any suggestion at all that these decisions are in any way politically influenced are downright wrong.

“I would suggest that they go further than that; that they actually start to buy into what is a false and quite dangerous conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.”

Ms Sturgeon repeated her assertion that there is not “a shred of evidence” to support her former mentor’s claim there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life involving claims of sexual harassment while he was first minister.

The Government’s investigation of the allegations was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

Mr Salmond, who was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial, was awarded a £512,250 payout after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the government investigation.

A parliamentary inquiry – the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints – was established to look into the Government’s actions, with the current First Minister due to give evidence in person next week.

Salmond steps down from top job
Former first minister Alex Salmond has alleged Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code in his subsequently-redacted evidence (Danny Lawson/PA)

Addressing Mr Salmond’s request to defer his scheduled appearance after the “eleventh hour” redactions of his written evidence, Ms Sturgeon said: “Alex Salmond has had the opportunity today to be in front of the committee and to try to substantiate those allegations.

“He’s declined that opportunity today, I don’t think with any good reason.

“I hope he comes to the committee in early course so that he can say what he wants, put forward any claims that he wants and, crucially, brings forward the evidence.

“I want to get in front of this committee to answer every and all questions that people have of me, to address all the issues that people have and to rebut, frankly, head on and very directly, some of the wild, untrue, false and baseless claims.”

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said his lawyers will ask the Lord Advocate James Wolffe – head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish Government – to explain the legal basis for the crown’s intervention, questions over whether the legal position about the evidence has changed and why, and whether there were any representations made to the Crown Office.

Parliament’s Presiding Officer has since allowed an urgent question from Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie about whether the Lord Advocate “was consulted about the letter from the Crown Office to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body in relation to the evidence from Alex Salmond published by the Parliament”.

Responding to the question of whether Ms Sturgeon’s evidence to the ministerial code inquiry would be released, a Government spokesman said: “The First Minister is co-operating fully with the self-referral process and has given evidence to the independent adviser.

“It would not be appropriate to release her written submissions while the independent adviser proceeds with the referral process.

“The report will be published when it has been completed.”