THE Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair will not publish material from the former First Minister’s criminal trial in case it causes "further unnnecessary distress to any women".

It said the material included "numerous chains of private messages between different women in what we are clear were safe spaces for confidential support" that were not part of its remit.

A Scottish Government source said the decision "utterly destroyed" Mr Salmond's claim that the messages would expose a high-level conspiracy against him.

Rape Crisis Scotland said the way women's experiences had been "manipulated and exploited by some for political and personal gain" was completely unacceptable.

However the inquiry is concerned it did not receive all the relevant material it asked for and is expected to write back to the Crown narrowing its request, with a focus on messages involving Nicola Sturgeon's husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

MSPs examined the first lot of material, which was released by the Crown Office last week, in private this morning.

Mr Salmond had pushed the inquiry to seek the messages, which were obtained by his trial defence team, so that he could tell the “whole truth” under oath.

The inquiry asked prosecutors to hand over text and WhatsApp messages between the SNP’s chief operating officer Sue Ruddick and civil servants, ministers and special advisers, or other material relevant to its work.

It also asked for files about Mr Salmond being investigated by the Government over alleged sexual misconduct being leaked to the Daily Record in 2018.

Mr Salmond had been threatened with prosecution if he released the confidential material himself.

However Mr Salmond's ploy appeared to backfire, with MSPs saying they felt it would not be in the public interest to publish the private communications.

Publication of the media leak material is still under consideration by the inquiry.

Convener Linda Fabiani said: “After reviewing the material received from the Crown Office, the Committee has unanimously agreed that the private communications within the material will not be published. 

“These communications included numerous chains of private messages between different women in what we are clear were safe spaces for confidential support.

“The Committee is clear that publication and further consideration of this material is not relevant to the Committee’s work or necessary to fulfil its remit. 

“We will not publish any of these messages as we are clear that we will not do anything that may cause further unnecessary distress to any women.

“We will not be commenting further to seek to limit further speculation on these messages.”

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The inquiry is looking at the Scottish Government’s mishandling of into complaints of sexual misconduct made against Mr Salmond in 2018 by two female civil servants.

The former First Minister had the exercise set aside in a judicial review, showing it had been “tainted by apparent bias”, leaving taxpayers with a £500,000 bill for his costs.

He was later charged with sexual assault but cleared on all counts at a trial last March.

After his acquittal Mr Salmond said he wanted to bring material that he was not allowed to lead in evidence for legal reasons into the public domain.

Some of this, which was discussed at a preliminary hearing, included messages from Ms Ruddick.

Mr Salmond's supporters claim he was the victim of a plot by senior SNP and Government figures to stop him making a comeback and rivalling his successor.

However a senior Government source said that theory had been exploded by the inquiry's assessment of the material and its refusal to publish it.

The source said: "This utterly destroys Alex Salmond’s ridiculous conspiracy theories.

"He’s been trying to persuade people that these messages support his claims. 

“Instead, what they reveal, as MSPs from the committee now realise, is women who are fearful, anxious and upset and who are looking to each other for support.

“Now that the committee has seen this material and accepts it for what it actually is, their indulgence in absurd conspiracy theories must cease.”

The messages were obtained by MSPs after the Parliament took the unprecedented step of using its power to compel the production of documents.

Rape Crisis Scotland said it was “deeply disappointed” that the inquiry had sought the messages at Mr Salmond’s prompting, and “disturbed” the Crown Office had complied.

It said the messages were irrelevant to the inquiry’s remit, but were “personal communications between friends who supported each other during a traumatic time”.

It said a WhatsApp group homed in on by supporters of Mr Salmond was “simply a support group for women who had already shared their experiences with the police”.

Sandy Brindley, Chief Executive of Rape Crisis Scotland said: “In amongst the noise and politics of this committee inquiry the experiences of the women who reported their experiences has been side-lined, manipulated and exploited by some for political and personal gain. This is completely unacceptable.

“Survivors often tell us that they fear disclosing their experiences because people may not believe them, that there will be repercussions from the person responsible or others, and if they report they fear their lives will be scrutinised and torn apart. 

“It’s difficult to see this entire situation as anything other than a manifestation of many survivors’ worst fears on a magnified, national scale.

“The remit of this inquiry is clear and both the request for these private messages and the decision of the Crown to provide them is unjust and irrelevant to the work of the committee. 

“Survivors are entitled to privacy and we are deeply concerned about the precedent this sets going forward, and the impact that this public conversation is having right now on anyone who has experienced any form of sexual harassment, abuse or assault.

“The focus of this inquiry should be on organisational accountability and capturing any possible learning for improved responses going forward. Far greater care needs to be taken to avoid worsening the intimidation and harassment of the women involved in this case."

Mr Salmond is due to testify at the inquiry on February 9, with Nicola Sturgeon appearing on February 9.