Salmond complaints committee urged Sturgeon to preserve personal communications

4 April 2019, 11:32

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister has been urged to ensure her personal communications are preserved if these could be relevant to a probe into the Scottish Government's handling of misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond.

A committee set up to look at what happened said she should keep both hard copy and electronic documents, including any personal communications such as email and mobile phone data.

The letter comes after Scotland's most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, told them Scottish Government computer systems automatically delete material not saved on to the corporate record system after a period of time.

But Ms Evans assured MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, which she ordered to be set up, that this feature can be temporarily suspended for some users.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani wrote to the First Minister after she pledged to answer to the "fullest extent possible" any questions regarding her involvement with a legal challenge her predecessor brought against the Scottish Government.

Mr Salmond challenged the way sexual misconduct allegations had been handled, taking his case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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

Following 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 before the court case.

MSPs on the committee have already agreed their investigations are to be put on hold until the conclusion of a court case against the former SNP leader.

He has been charged with 14 offences, including two of attempted rape.

Mr Salmond denies "absolutely these allegations of criminality".

Ms Fabiani noted the "public commitment" the First Minister had made to "cooperate fully" with the committee inquiry.

She told Ms Sturgeon: "The committee would therefore welcome confirmation from you that, in keeping with this commitment, you will ensure that all hard copy and electronic documents (including emails and electronic messages) which you hold, and which may be either directly or indirectly relevant to the inquiry are being preserved - this will include any personal communications such as email and mobile phone data."

The committee is also seeking confirmation from the First Minister she will ensure documents held by SNP members, party staff and others that could be relevant are preserved.

"I would be grateful if you could confirm that you will take the necessary steps to ensure that this is being done," Ms Fabiani told the SNP leader.

In a separate letter to Ms Evans, the convener said: "The committee is in a difficult position as the restrictions placed on it due to the ongoing legal proceedings impact on its ability to identify the relevant information."

She asked the Permanent Secretary to supply the committee with more details on the time frame surrounding the halting of the automatic deletion software for some users and "whether these instructions also cover personal communication such as emails and mobile phone data".

Ms Fabiani said: "It is the committee's expectation that this information will be preserved and so it is seeking assurances that instructions to this effect have been issued."

She added: "While all of this may require additional work, I am sure you will appreciate that the committee's intention is to ensure that all the necessary information will be available to it when it commences its inquiry.

"It is therefore important for the committee to seek categorical assurance that every possible step is being taken to ensure that all the information that could be relevant to its inquiry is being preserved."