NICOLA Sturgeon’s government has been accused of a “frankly outrageous” bid to release disputed material about sexual misconduct claims against Alex Salmond.

The former First Minister’s lawyer said the Scottish Government seemed “determined to spend even more public money” on a new legal case to “tarnish” his reputation.

David McKie said the Government was trying to release files which exposed “the substance of the complaints”, even though they had been set aside by the courts as tainted, a move could undo Mr Salmond's legal victory to keep them secret. 

The claims are made in letters released by the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, and show an increasingly bitter feud between Mr Salmond and his estranged predecessor.

MSPs are investigating how the Scottish Government botched its in-house probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in early 2018.

He had the process overturned in a judicial review hearing by showing it had been “tainted by apparent bias”, a government flaw that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs.

When the Government conceded the case in January 2019, it gave an undertaking not to release certain documents which had been “reduced”, or set aside, by the court as tainted.

These included three investigating officer reports, which were deemed invalid.

However deputy First Minister John Swinney has said the Government wants to return to court for a ruling on whether other specific documents are also covered by this undertaking.

If they are not covered, the Government wants to share them with the inquiry.

In a letter to the inquiry yesterday, Mr Swinney said it now planned to share 400 documents containing more than 2000 pages past Mr Salmond’s lawyers, Levy & McRae.

He said the firm would have two weeks to say whether it agreed or objected to the release of each document, and those it agreed to release would be passed to the inquiry.

The rest would be the subject of a court application to determine if they could be released.

In his letter, Mr Swinney said the Government’s position was in favour of release of certain documents even though they had already been reduced, or set aside by the court.

He wrote: “The Scottish Government’s position is that only documents expressly referred to, or described, in the undertaking are subject to it. That position is disputed by L&M. 

“The Scottish Government’s position is also that documents reduced by the Court of Session remain in existence and that the Scottish Government should be able to disclose them to you (albeit with the clear caveat that they have been reduced). 

“We understand from correspondence to the Committee that our position on the effect of reduction may not be shared by L&M.”

He added: “The Scottish Government does not intend in the court application to seek the court’s permission to disclose documents which we already accept are covered by the undertaking – in particular the Investigating Officer’s reports.”

The strength of the disagreement with Levy & McRae was revealed in other correspondence released by the inquiry today.

In it, Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie, said it was clear that the Government was trying to release material which contained the substance of the original complaints against his client.

He said there were five documents reduced by the court in Mr Salmond’s civil case - the three investigating officer’s reports Mr Swinney said the Government was not seeking to release, but also two other key documents on which Mr Swinney was silent. 

The other reduced documents are the decision report of the Scottish Government’s top official, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, which was based on the investigation reports, and her letter telling Mr Salmond about her decision to publicise her decision.

Mr McKie told the inquiry: “It would appear, therefore, that the intention of the Scottish Government is to provide the Committee with the remaining two documents, specifically the Decision Report of 21st August 2018 and the letter of the Permanent Secretary to this firm outlining that decision dated 22nd August 2018. 

“That position is frankly outrageous, defeats the purpose and effect of the declaratory of reduction granted by Lord Pentland [the judge in the judicial review] and is in direct contravention of the stated position of the Committee [not to reinvestigate the complaints]. 

“The Decision Report is entirely concerned with the substance of the complaints. So, self evidently, is the decision letter of 22nd August 2018. Despite that, the Scottish Government seems determined to spend even more public money in a continued effort to publicise those documents and to revisit the substance of the complaints. 

“The justification advanced by the Deputy First Minister for doing so is untenable. 

“It is that ‘These documents are directly relevant to the questions asked by the Committee, they remain in existence and in the possession of the Scottish Government, and we wish the all the relevant information to be provided to the Committee – clearly noting of course those which have been reduced by the court.’ 

“That position does not withstand scrutiny. The inadmissibility of these documents has already been noted. The fact that they remain physically in existence is not a reason for them to be provided contrary to the stated remit and approach to evidence of the Committee.

“On what possible basis can it be suggested that access to those documents is justified or the information relevant? 

“The clear objective of the Scottish Government is to tarnish the reputation of our client and to seek to distract the Committee from the core remit of investigating the Scottish Government and First Minister. 

“The Scottish Government has now reiterated its intention to return to Court, at further expense to the taxpayer, on an unnecessary and improper exercise.”  

Mr McKie asked the inquiry to make it plain to the Government urgently that it did want access “to any of the reduced documents” to avoid a second costly legal action. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The Scottish Government is not seeking to provide any information to the Committee about the substance of the complaints, and has never done so as the Deputy First Minister made clear in his letter to the Committee on October 14.

"In addition, the Committee has made it clear it does not wish to receive such information: a position we have understood since the outset and agree with not least because releasing that information would risk identification of the individuals who made complaints.

“As was the case with the 1,000 pages of documentation provided to the Committee so far by the Scottish Government, all information about the substance of the complaints has been and will be redacted from documents which are submitted by the Scottish Government.”