Salmond complaint committee to raise ‘preservation of evidence’ concerns with FM

The committee set up to investigate how misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond were handled by the Scottish Government is to raise issues concerning the “preservation of evidence” with the First Minister.

Convener Linda Fabiani announced the move after MSPs were informed that Scottish Government computer systems “automatically delete material” not saved onto the corporate record system after a period of time.

But Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans has written to the committee to say she has “instructed the halting of the automated deletion of some users’ content”.

MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints discussed the letter when they met in private for about an hour on Thursday evening.

At the end of the meeting, Ms Fabiani announced they would write to Nicola Sturgeon, saying this would “be relevant to the preservation of evidence which maybe relevant to the remit of this inquiry”.

It comes after the First Minister pledged to Holyrood she would answer to the “fullest extent possible” any questions regarding her involvement with a legal challenge her predecessor brought against the Scottish Government.

The former first minister challenged the way sexual misconduct allegations had been handled, taking his case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

It ruled that the process had been “unlawful” after it emerged the investigating officer had had previous contact with the two women who made the allegations.

After that ruling in January, Ms Evans pledged an internal review of procedures within the Scottish Government would be carried out.

A separate investigation is also taking place to determine if Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code in meetings and conversations with the former first minister prior to the court case.

While MSPs on the committee have agreed to put their inquiry on hold until the conclusion of a court case against the former SNP leader, they had written to the Government making clear they expected all hard copy and electronic documents which may be relevant to the inquiry to be preserved.

In response, Ms Evans said that “specific staff who may hold documents which may be relevant” had been “instructed not to delete such documents”.

She added: “I have also instructed that any relevant files which fall to be considered under the Scottish Government’s retention and disposal schedules before the conclusion of the committee’s inquiry should not be destroyed.

“Finally, the Scottish Government has systems which automatically delete material which is not saved to the corporate record after certain periods. I have therefore instructed the halting of the automated deletion of specific users’ content for a set time frame.”

In addition to writing to the First Minister, the committee will contact the Scottish Government for “additional reassurance”, Ms Fabiani said.

Mr Salmond appeared in court in Edinburgh in January charged with 14 offences, including two of attempted rape, but insisted afterwards that he refuted “absolutely these allegations of criminality”.