Key data relating to the Scottish Government's collapsed harassment probe into Alex Salmond may already have been "deleted", the Scottish Government's top civil servant has suggested.
Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans has told MSPs that "automated systems" mean that civil servants emails are deleted after 14 months. Steps have now been taken to ensure individuals deemed to have had an involvement in the Salmond case will have such material retained.
Read more: MSPs raise concern that key data in Alex Salmond case already ‘deleted’
The Court of Session found the Scottish Government had acted unlawfully over the way it handled two complaints about Mr Salmond’s conduct in January, resulting in ministers conceding defeat after a legal challenge brought by the ex-First Minister. MSPs on a specially-convened committee are conducting an inquiry into the Government's handling of the case and had asked Ms Evans if any material may have been deleted before the instruction was issued not to - and if this material could be retrieved.
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"It is not possible technically to tell what has been automatically deleted or to retrieve material which has already been deleted from the system," Ms Evans states in a letter to the Holyrood inquiry conducting the probe.
The instruction not to delete material went to civil servants who had "direct or indirect involvement" in the handling of the complaints, the mandarin adds.
MS Evans that the "confidential nature" of the complaints meant the issues were handled by "a limited group of people" at St Andrews House.
Mr Salmond has since been charged with separate criminal allegations, including attempted rape. He denies all claims of wrongdoing.
The Holyrood committee has agreed to suspend its deliberations until the criminal case is disposed of, but is concerned about the prospect of vital information being deleted by the Government.