CIVIL servants have halted the automatic deletion of emails and other information as part of the Holyrood probe on the SNP Government’s botched sexual misconduct investigation into Alex Salmond.

Lesley Evans, the permanent secretary of the Scottish Government, said the system had been stopped for key people amid fears vital evidence was being lost.

It emerged last year that two individuals had complained to the Government about alleged sexual harassment by Salmond when he was First Minister.

However, Salmond successfully challenged the probe in court after it was ruled illegal by Lord Pentland.

MSPs agreed to set up a cross-party committee to investigate how the allegations against Salmond had been handled.

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One of the issues concerning MSPs is that Outlook emails and other computer records may have been automatically deleted.

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

Committee convener Linda Fabiani, in a letter to Evans last month, laid bare the anxieties:

“The Committee’s main concerns relate to the retrieval of information.

“In particular what it means in practice where you say that ‘It is not possible technically to tell what has been automatically deleted [after 14 months] or to retrieve material which has already been deleted from the system’.

“Given the Committee’s role in scrutinising the Scottish Government’s actions, you will appreciate that this is of serious concern to Committee Members. To address this matter, the Committee would welcome more detail on the Scottish Government’s records management processes, including the technical operation of the system.”

Evans’ response, which appeared on the Parliament’s website on Friday, stated:

“In relation to the issue which you identify as the Committee's main concern around automated deletion, to be clear: this does not apply to information kept as part of the corporate record. There is therefore no risk that relevant information kept as part of the corporate record has been automatically deleted.”

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She continued: “I have taken the additional step of instructing the halting of the automated deletion system in respect of specific people. This ensures an even wider scope of information will be available to the inquiry when it commences than would be the case under our normal practice.”

The Committee next meets on Thursday. A separate police investigation into the allegations against Salmond led to him being charged with a range of offences, including attempted rape. He denies any criminality.