EMAILS relating to the Scottish Government’s botched sexual misconduct probe into Alex Salmond may already have been deleted, it has emerged.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans made the admission in a letter to a special Holyrood committee examining why the investigation collapsed in January.

She gave her “full commitment” that all information held by the Scottish Government would be preserved for the inquiry, and said the automatic deletion of Outlook emails after 14 months would be halted for individuals involved in the initial probe.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon vows not to destroy Salmond probe data

But she added: “You asked whether documents which may be relevant to the committee’s inquiry were deleted before the instruction was given and what steps are being taken to recover this information.

“It is not possible technically to tell what had been automatically deleted or to retrieve material which has already been deleted from the system.

“However, the automated deletion process applies only to Outlook material which had not been stored as part of the corporate record and in electronic filing systems, and written guidance to staff makes clear the information governance standards and procedures which apply to all Scottish Government business.”

Figures including Nicola Sturgeon were previously told to preserve all hard copy and electronic documents relating to the committee's inquiry.

In her letter, Ms Evans confirmed this includes personal communications such as emails, mobile phone data and social media accounts.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, a member of the special committee, said: “Deleting electronic communications that are more than 14 months old when the inquiry is looking into a complaint made 15 months ago is deeply troubling.

“It will be far more difficult to complete a comprehensive probe that retains public trust when not all of the relevant documentation and correspondence is available.”

Mr Salmond was the subject of a Scottish Government probe after being accused of sexual misconduct by two female civil servants relating to his time in office.

However, he later successfully challenged the process in court after it became clear the lead investigating officer had been in prior contact with both his accusers.

A judicial review ruled that rendered the process unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”. Taxpayers have now been left with a £500,000 legal bill.

The former first minister is also facing separate criminal charges, including attempted rape. He strongly denies any criminality.

Ms Sturgeon came under fire earlier this year after it emerged she repeatedly spoke with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated by the Government.