NICOLA Sturgeon’s top official had denied being “at war” with Alex Salmond.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said an infamous text she sent after the former first minister won a legal case had been misinterpreted as "conspiratorial".

Mr Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government in January 2019, forcing it to set aside the findings of its 2018 sexual misconduct probe into him.

Ministers were forced to admit their probe had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” because the lead investigating official was in prior contact with Mr Salmond’s accusers.

Outside the Court of Session immediately after his victory, Mr Salmond heaped blame on Ms Evans and suggested she should resign.

It later emerged that after the Government’s case collapsed, Ms Evans sent a colleague a text message saying: “We may have lost the battle, but we will win the war”.

Mr Salmond's supporters have cited is as evidence of a conspiracy against him.

A Holyrood inquiry is now investigating how the Government botched its misconduct probe, leaving taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.

Recalled to give evidence to the inquiry for a second time this morning, Ms Evans was asked by Tory MSP Murdo Fraser about her text message.

She said: “I think that has been misinterpreted as having some kind of conspiratorial element to it. Can I clearly say that is not the case?

”I was not referring to any individual when I sent that text. I was referring to a long-term commitment of mine, and indeed of the Scottish Government, as you will see from its policy documents, to ensure that equality lies at the heart of what it does.”

Asked by Mr Fraser if she had been “at war with Alex Salmond”, she replied: “No.”

The text emerged in a preliminary hearing before Mr Salmond's separate criminal trial, when his legal team suggested Ms Evans and others were motivated against Mr Salmond and there was an effort to discredit him.

Judge Lady Dorrian refused to allow the material to be led in evidence in case the trial drifted off course.

Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 counts of sexual assault in March.

Ms Evans also stressed to MSPs that the Government’s case had foundered because of “apparent bias”, not actual bias, and insisted all those involved had acted in “good faith”.

Ms Sturgeon has dismissed the idea of a conspiracy against Mr Salmond as "a heap of nonsense".