The Holyrood committee probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond has decided not to publish messages between women which were handed to it by the Crown Office.
The material was passed to the inquiry last month after unprecedented demand from parliamentarians.
The Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee was set up after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the handling of complaints against the former first minister to be “unlawful”, resulting in a £512,250 payout to Salmond.
Salmond was also cleared of all sexual offence allegations made against him following a trial last year.
Committee convener Linda Fabiani MSP 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from the Crown Office, the committee has unanimously agreed that the private communications within the material will not be published.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.”
Rape Crisis Scotland said it was “deeply concerned” that the messages were requested.
The organisation published a statement on behalf of the women whose messages were requested.
It said: “We are deeply disappointed that the committee saw fit to request messages between people identified by the police and the Crown as victims of sexual harassment, some of whose identities are protected by a court order.
“We have no doubt that members of the committee knew that vulnerable witnesses were involved when they made the request.
“We are also deeply disturbed that the Crown has felt it appropriate to break the trust we placed in it. Having been let down by the Crown Office, we feel this unnecessary act will have done serious damage to progress made over the last few years in sexual assault cases.
“We urge the Crown to consider the grave consequences of their actions, and are actively considering further options.
“Not a single one of these messages relates to the remit of the committee or the committee’s published approach to the inquiry.
“In short, what the Crown provided are personal communications between friends who supported each other during a traumatic time.”
The messages, “had they been published, would show clearly that there was no conspiracy between women, but bonds of friendship and support”.
A Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Copfs) spokesman said: “We take seriously our responsibilities towards victims and witnesses.
“In order to protect public confidence and trust, Copfs processes the information it holds carefully, thoughtfully and lawfully.
“Copfs was compelled to provide certain information to comply with a statutory notice, but asked the committee to carefully consider if it would be appropriate and in the public interest to publish the material provided.”