DID JOHN SOMERS LIE TO THE FABIANI INQUIRY?

Documents just released by the Scottish Government strongly suggest that the First Minister’s Principal Private Secretary John Somers attended a crucial meeting on 13 November 2018 where advice was sought from senior counsel on the crisis that had arisen in the defence of Alex Salmond’s judicial review action.

Somers has previously denied on solemn affirmation at the Fabiani inquiry that he had any such involvement in the judicial review.

If Somers was indeed at the meeting with counsel on 13 November 2018, it seems clear that he has lied to the inquiry.

It is inconceivable that he could have forgotten participating in such a meeting.

Somers’s evidence

On 1 December 2020, Somers told the Fabiani inquiry of his sole involvement in the judicial review procedure:

“On the JR, and specifically the commission, I was asked on 21 December 2018 to search for any documents, emails, text messages or notes, using a number of suggested search terms. Neither I nor the private office held any documents that fell within the suggested parameters.”

He was unequivocal about having had no other involvement:

“Other than carrying out and overseeing the requested searches of the First Minister’s private office, as part of the commission and diligence, I had no involvement in the judicial review.”

The newly disclosed documents

On 13 November 2018, at 13.55, a Scottish Government official whose name has been redacted emailed senior counsel Roddy Dunlop QC to confirm that day’s emergency consultation with the First Minister and Permanent Secretary.

The official confirmed that the meeting was set for 4.45, and continued:

“The Perm Sec is intending to come along. Liz Lloyd will be there, as will [redacted]. John Somers, FM Private Office will be there.”

The email was copied to other redacted recipients who may or may not include John Somers. If he was copied in, then he would have had access not only to the email exchange but to the copious documentation that was to be discussed at the consultation, and which was attached to the email chain, including the views of Nicola Richards, Judith Mackinnon and the First Minister’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd on various matters.

In that case, even if, for some unforeseen reason, he did not attend the meeting, he would still have had “involvement” in the judicial review in any meaningful sense of the word.

Indeed, it’s hard to see how he could have been due to attend such a meeting without having had some “involvement” up to that point. If he didn’t, why was he due to attend at all?

The Scottish Government’s evidence

If Somers was at the meeting, contrary to his own evidence on solemn affirmation at the inquiry, his attendance is also contrary to the Scottish Government’s stated position.

On 13 September 2019, they published their response to the following question submitted under the Freedom of Information (FOI) provisions:

“Further to the FOI answer of 29 May, please list attendance of Scottish Government officials and Ministers and Special Advisers at each of the 17 meetings and conference calls with counsel defending the judicial review between 23 August and 3 January 2019.”

For the meeting on 13 November 2018, their answer was as follows:

“13 November 2018: First Minister, Elizabeth Lloyd, Permanent Secretary.”

No mention of John Somers.

The First Minister’s evidence

Nicola Sturgeon also gave evidence about the meeting to the inquiry on 3 March this year:

Murdo Fraser: We know that you attended a meeting with counsel on 13 November. Who was at that meeting and what was discussed?

The First Minister: Clearly, I was at the meeting, as were senior and junior counsel, the permanent secretary and Liz Lloyd—my chief of staff. I think that SGLD was represented, as well.
I requested the meeting; it was part of what I thought was the proper thing to do.

No mention of John Somers.

Why are there no notes or minutes of this and other meetings?

Those of you who are, like me, of a cynical turn of mind, will no doubt wonder if the extraordinary lack of minutes or notes of this and other meetings is somehow related to these kind of matters.

This is how Deputy First Minister John Swinney explained things in his letter to the inquiry of 8 March 2021:

“My letter of 5 March confirmed that the Scottish Government does not hold formal minutes of meetings with Counsel during the Judicial Review and, in response to the clerks’ follow-up question, we have not identified any record of minutes having been prepared or previously held by the Scottish Government.

“I asked officials to check what documents are available, prioritising the meetings on 2 and 13 November 2018, which the Committee has highlighted. 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. I have asked officials to urgently … publish these email exchanges as soon as possible this week.”

Well, now we have them, John.

And as usual they give rise to many more questions than answers.

A Very Scottish Coup

All of these questions arise of course from my trying to keep up with the shocking revelations now coming out on a daily basis about this Very Scottish Coup, and which keep delaying the completion of Parts Three and Four.

The Government’s now published legal advice, which I’m continuing to review in detail for this purpose, is shocking almost beyond words. In particular, I keep thinking of Judith Mackinnon’s evidence that she can’t really see what she did wrong, and Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence that she just didn’t know anything about anything.

It truly is tempting just to abandon the whole enterprise of rational analysis when we’re this far through the looking glass.

Anyway, for those of you still hanging in there, my usual apologies for the continued delay.

37 thoughts on “DID JOHN SOMERS LIE TO THE FABIANI INQUIRY?

  1. Can you clarify for me how many “permanent secretary” there are and, most importantly, WHAT they are?
    So, the drip drip drip continue unabated. I wish they got themselves a good plumber 😀

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    1. Andrea, there’s only one Permanent Secretary — Leslie Evans. There are lots of private secretaries and the bigger Cabinet posts have a Principal Private Secretary, which is what John Somers is for the First Minister.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Andrea, maybe watching the first episode or two of the original “Yes Minister” will fill in some blanks. It is, of course, Westminster-based, but I imagine it gives a good guide to the Scottish Civil Service. It is tax season here in the USA and I am watching it at the end of the day to provide me with some light relief before going to bed for half a night’s sleep.

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      1. There is no ‘Scottish Civil Service’, the UK ‘Home’ Civil Service manages the UK Government Department in Scotland masquerading as the ‘Scottish Government’.

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    1. Thanks, GeeK, much appreciated as always. I’m worried that my promises about the next part of AVSC being imminent are becoming like the SNP’s promises of indyref2 — not a comparison anyone should welcome!

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  2. As always a scrupulously forensic appraisal of the on-going train wreck of an inquiry into Salmondgate.

    Only with increased powers will the Holyrood executive be held to account. This ruinous shambles must never happen again.

    John Somers is unfortunately not alone in turning his back on his civic responsibilities. You can suspect that perhaps he felt there was strength in numbers. Poor deluded soul.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Interesting to see how the David Davis adjournment debate will mix in. Will the enquiry now be allowed to see pieces of relevant information now recorded in hansard, spoken about by DD? Would be great if that were the case. Something needs to give in this stinky debacle.

    Great writing as always. On tenterhooks awaiting part 3, but the best things come to those who wait….so I await with eager patience

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, littleladylotte, that’s very welcome and reassuring. I wish Davis had just read out the emails in full, including dates, which are very important. I know he had to give some context but the way he did it left a wide open door for the SG’s usual “cherry-picking” and “out of context” claims.

      We need to know exactly the context of Lloyd “interfering” in February 2018 because if it IS in the Salmond complaints process then it’s dynamite of course.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Can’t the stuff be published on the HoC’s website, or, failing that, by the Spectator?
        Now that it is out, shouldn’t it be made public?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Dangerfield, can you help explain the importance of Somers in the grand scheme of things? Can you clarify what role he played and why it seems so important to keep him out of the frame?

    We are talking about the complainers here, I guess, in terms of why they came forward when, right?

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    1. Hatuey, he met Ms A on 20 November 2017 and kept her away from the FM, to whom Ms A was trying hard to get her complaint directly. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for AVSC 3 and 4 for the rest of the answer but I do have an earlier post which you’ll get if you search for “Somers” which gives the start of it. With my usual optimism, I thought then I’d be coming back to it to deal with it properly in a few days…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Given the information freely available (and ignoring conjecture as to ID) that ms A as a civil servant within Bute House (with known previous AS history) must have had easy access to NS, why would an informal approach to Somers be necessary prior to meeting NS?

        Many thanks for the analyses,

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  5. Gordon, I’m sure that it isn’t just lawyers who always take notes of meetings. We’re not talking about very junior administrative level civil servants here. I’m pretty sure that, just as solicitors take notes of every discussion with counsel, if for no other reason than their own protection, so that there can be no doubt as to what was discussed and what actions were agreed, notes would have been taken and reviewed afterwards.

    Indeed one could see that it would almost be a disciplinary offence for a civil servant to attend a conference/meeting, call it what you will, with external counsel and not, for their own peace of mind make a note of the subject matter and any decisions made, action decided etc. I therefore don’t believe for a minute that such minutes weren’t taken and there is some deep covering up going on.

    I know you and lots of other commentators have said it but I’ll say it again; it’s always the cover up that does for shysters. Last night’s lancing of the disclosure boil by David Davies has speeded up the eventual coming to the light so badly needed. And it’s getting too late for the liars to avoid criminal proceedings.

    Please delay your further instalments so that they can include the rapidly growing number of revelations.

    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I worked as a temp PA to a Councillor in Aberdeen who then moved south to another position. And there was no meeting that was unminuted. I cant see the gov administration being any different. And as PA we had access to the email systems and would advise the Councillor as to what required their attention. So I agree it’s not just lawyers.

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  6. Gordon, the SG state that Liz Lloyd, who allegedly interfered to the annoyance of McKinnon, in Feb 2018, did not interfere in respect of Woman A or Woman B. As you’ll know, women A and B as detailed in your previous writings are apparently not the same as A and B at AS’s trial, so SG statement might be true but highly misleading. And perhaps a trap.

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    1. A better link here to the twitter post by Denise Fiblay/ Grace Brodie who recognises the unintended confirmation of the whistle blower’s information to David Davis MP.

      “So this complainant was approached, that is odd I thought women came forward.
      And she did talk to Liz Lloyd in January
      So clearly Liz Lloyd knew about the investigation in January which is not what she said in evidence, and it totally backs up the info David David had”

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      1. But surely this email is made up (written by Rape Crisis Scotland) to protect Liz Lloyd from the David Davies revelations? to give plausible deniability?

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  7. “I know he had to give some context but the way he did it left a wide open door for the SG’s usual “cherry-picking” and “out of context” claims.”…….yes indeed Gordon, such news items as I have heard today on BBC Scotland very much bear this out.

    Keep up the great work, please.

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  8. Excellent as usual Gordon, I don’t know where you get the motivation to continually delve into the cesspit that is the SNP/Scottish Government at the present time, You are doing a great job. By the way, did you read the interview with Lord Falconer in Holyrood magazine? Cant copy and past for some reason but it is on hollyrood.com

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  9. John Somers,,,, John Somers – he’s a weird one that doesn’t quite fit into the overall scheme as we see it. Best pals with Liz Lloyd and Private Secretary 1 to Leslie Evans (so he says himself, or words to that effect), in charge of security surrounding the First Minister in parliament and Bute House, but only ever looks at the FMs diary, never adding or changing diary entries. Receiving emails about the procedure development, and maybe the decision report, fielding a complainer trying to get direct contact with the FM. Called to the Commission on Diligence for the JR.

    He appears to be in the thick of it, but his involvement is definitely being obscured – because he’s a bit too close to the FM? Of course, Somers has no protection of anonymity, and his name should never be Redacted – but we now know that redactions are often made for the sole purpose of covering up for the FM.

    So WHY is his name being missed out from so much evidence?

    I found MP David Davis’ speech in the HoC fascinating – it may not have satisfied your need for specific dates and times and details Gordon, but it was a political move to put as much on record as possible I think – and not from the ‘shocking revelations’ point of view: he stated plainly that he was allowed to say these things because of parliamentary privilege and Holyrood was not afforded that same privilege – and outlined WHY things have got so bad. He was effectively saying it is BECAUSE OF the union we are in such a bad fix.

    IF we were independent and had a fully independent parliament & government, we would NEVER HAVE come to this pass. The restrictions of the Scotland Act (1998) and the establishment of a kiddy on parliament has made it impossible to hold the SG to account, and made the Crown Office interference possible.

    I’m not saying there would be no corruption in an independent Scotland – but what Davis’ speech says, in stark terms, is that IF WE WERE INDEPENDENT it would never have got this far – Leslie Evans would have had to stand down and Nicola Sturgeon would have been under scrutiny straight after the JR – they might have never even got that far, because there would have been parliamentary scrutiny from the start.

    We are in chains, stifled, unable to run a proper government while under Westminster rule. David Davis, being a unionist, didn’t say that of course – he said the Scotland Act needs revised. People saying we can’t rule ourselves because of the actions of the current Scottish Government, and the SNP, are WRONG – it is ONLY because we are part of the Union that things have gone so badly wrong.

    How do we make that clear to the general public, and make it clear we NEED to be independent? The Union is far more trouble than it’s worth.

    Anyway – John Somers – I hope you find more on him Gordon and we get a full exposé of his nasty little interfering involvement. It’s hard to believe the committee is happily writing their report without looking at all the evidence (that can be) available to them – fairly damning on them too when David Davis made the aside ‘most of them, anyway’ in relation to their struggle to find out what happened.

    I’m now wondering if there is a shred of integrity or principle left in the SNP – and wondering if a lack of such is a prerequisite of becoming an SNP parliamentarian (2 or 3 exceptions do not make the whole). Their lack of awareness of the reputational damage they are doing to themselves, the party, the SG, and to independence is ,,, well, astonishing.

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  10. Gordon. I fear the sands of time may be running out on us. The Holyrood report will come out soon and will probably be a whitewash.

    Perhaps, seeing things in this light, it might be better to keep your powder dry and publish Parts 3 and 4 having read the Fabiani report?

    Afterall, we might need all our guns blazing in the aftermath of its publication to sink it if we are ever going to hold Sturgeon and her cabal to account?

    Sturgeon, on the other hand, will be looking to draw a line under the whole thing as soon as Fabiani reports and we should not allow that…. this has gone too deep and to dark

    However you have better insight than I so if you feel your work can still influence the Fabiani report please don’t let me hold ye back!

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  11. O/T, but only a bit. I see the Crown Office has ordered the Spectator to remove from its website Salmond’s submission to the Fabiani inquiry.

    Gordon – where does this power come from? They’re a prosecution service, not a court? I thought only a court could order me to do or not do something?

    If the threat is of raising a court action, what crime could be alleged? What’s been breached?

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-crown-office-the-spectator-and-a-fight-for-a-free-press

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    1. Eh? How can they do that?

      The spectator already went to court to get it past the censors – with no objections from the prosecutors I believe – that can’t turn round and say, actually it’s not okay after all, surely?!

      Maybe we have gone through the looking glass,,,

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  12. From a BTL comment on Wings:
    Strathy says:
    18 March, 2021 at 11:32 am
    The Scotsman is reporting the Crown Office’s threats to The Spectator.

    It includes a response from the Crown Office: –

    ‘In all matters relating to the investigation and prosecution of Alex Salmond, and in subsequent issues, COPFS has acted with impartiality and fairness to apply the law professionally, independently and in the public interest.’

    https://archive.is/tyDmE

    ================================================================================

    So once again James Wolffe has investigated himself and found himself to be completely innocent and utterly beyond reproach. Quelle surprise!

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    1. They’re all over the place on this, Stuart, and Wings has been excellent on it. One minute they say it’s not up to them to give advice on contempt of court issues and the next they’re furiously “advising” The Spectator and others and in effect censoring the press on those exact issues.

      If only we lived in the US we could quote back at them what Walter Sobchak told the poor proprietor of the coffee shop: “For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint!”

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      1. I had to google both Walter Sobchak and prior restraint. But surely this is a case of “retrospective restraint” aka “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”. And Wolffe seems to not understand this internet thingy and thinks his authority extends to Iceland and the USA. Clear evidence of megalomania – cue the men in white coast!

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  13. Hi Gordon,

    I am losing my mind here like many others, I suppose, waiting for the third part of your excellent breakdown of this fiasco.

    I know this isn’t the latest post I’m commenting on, but I can’t get past this Somers thing. What is the significance of the apparent attempt to airbrush him from the record? Was it not enough to misplace the minutes? Seemingly not. The list of attendees was a big secret. Why?

    I know you alluded to this coming out in part three, hence my unbridled anticipation. In the meantime I have furnished myself with a few conspiracy theories which I’ll keep to myself until I know more.

    I’m sure I speak for many other lay people when I say a big thank you to you Mr Dangerfield for providing unquestionably the very best analysis of this clusterxxxx. You are providing a real service to the people of Scotland, and I salute you and your excellent efforts.

    All the best, and please hurry up with part three.

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    1. Many thanks, Scott. I’m really very encouraged by that as I was wondering if anyone was still interested now that we’re all wheeshting for indy again. I think like you that Somers is key to the whole cover up of Sturgeon’s knowledge of the complaints and I do indeed have some interesting stuff to share that’s been “overlooked” by the inquiry and others about his involvement from 20 November 2017 onwards.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Gordon, it would be interesting to see your take on what has happened since Friday when the new party was launched. Sturgeon is in meltdown and all but defaming Salmond with her constant smearing. I am right in thinking that she could be brought under control with a cease and desist order?

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  15. Bob, see my latest comment btl on the “Urgent Request” post for my views on Alba etc.

    In theory, Salmond or others who feel they’re being defamed could raise defamation proceedings and seek interim interdict to stop her saying these things pending the action being decided. In practice, it’s a non-starter in the political arena, which is how I think it should be. I shudder at the thought of giving judges the power to tell us what we can or can’t say in political or any other form of debate. Always better to combat lies by activism and argument and NEVER a good idea to take it to court.

    Like

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