ALEX Salmond accused SNP ministers of needlessly withholding evidence from a Holyrood inquiry into the legal case he brought against the Scottish Government.

The former First Minister has offered to work with the inquiry to extract documents currently being withheld by the Government, and even offered to launch a fresh legal action against it.

In an explosive letter, the former First Minister’s legal team say they want to share whatever court documents they can with MSPs.

They contrasted their willingness to cooperate with the Government’s reluctance to do so.

They have offered to supply the inquiry with lists of relevant documents about Mr Salmond's judicial reriew so it can then ask the Government for each one, calling it the "quickest and cheapest route".

However, Mr Salmond's side says it is also willing to go back to Court to force the Government to disclose files, provided the inquiry met all the costs.

The cross-party committee is looking at how the Government botched an in-house probe into sexual misconduct claims made against Mr Salmond in 2018. 

Mr Salmond had the exercise set aside in a judicial review at the Court of Session, forcing ministers to admit it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” because the lead investigating official had been in prior contact with his accusers.

The collapse of the Government’s case in January 2019 left taxpayers with a £500,000 legal bill for Mr Salmond’s costs, and the Holyrood inquiry is investigating what happened. 

Nicola Sturgeon told parliament at the time that the inquiry could have whatever material it wanted, but her Government has since withheld evidence on legal grounds and tried to block witnesses.

Mr Salmond's lawyer, David McKie of law firm Levy & McRae, told the inquiry: “We note that the Scottish Government continues to delay and to provide partial and incomplete evidence. 

"That pattern is familiar to us from the Judicial Review proceedings. 

"Reliance is being placed by the Scottish Government on the various legal impediments to document provision. 

"We acknowledge those, and are similarly restricted. 

"By contrast with the Scottish Government position, however, we are prepared to seek a way through that impasse."

Besides providing lists of documents, he said: "The second option, which we are willing to undertake on behalf of the committee, would be for Mr Salmond to return to court to seek the express consent of the court to have those documents passed to the committee. 

"That, however, will involve the drafting of a petition and a court appearance by Counsel. Those costs are not costs which it would be fair to ask our client to meet, simply to provide documents for which a Committee of the Scottish Parliament has asked and which the Scottish Government delays, or refuses, to provide. 

"We also don’t know whether that hearing would be contested by the Scottish Government, adding to the costs.

"As a result, whilst we are more than content to make that application on behalf of the Committee, we would require clarification that all legal costs would be met by the Committee." 

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He added: "We would reinforce that we do not understand why an offer to produce these documents has not been offered in full by the Scottish Government, whose documents they are. 

“They are in a different position from our client in that the documents belong to, and originated from, the Scottish Government.”

Although the committee is examining the civil action Mr Salmond brought against the Government, the former FM has also offered to discuss documents disclosed to him as part of his separate criminal trial with the committee "which have a direct bearing" on its deliberations.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 counts of sexual assault in March, claiming afterwards that he had been the victim of an attempt to smear him.

Mr McKie said Mr Salmond had "a great many documents" relevant to the committee as a result of his criminal trial, which he would be willing to share.

However this would require the consent of the Scottish Government's top law officer, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, as head of the Crown Office.

Again, Mr McKie offered to provide a list of specific documents to the inquiry to help it ask the Lord Advocate for the material.

He wrote: "We reaffirm our client’s desire to assist the Inquiry in any way that he can. We can confirm that he is currently undertaking a review of the relevant documents and is committed to providing a list of documents from a) the judicial review and b) the disclosure to him in the criminal trial which have a direct bearing on the deliberations of the committee.

"It would be his intention to make submissions on those documents as part of the wider submission he wishes to make to the committee.

"It will, of course, be apparent to you that his submission requires to proceed in response to the position advanced by the Scottish Government.

"That position is not clear to him, or to the committee, at this time. He, and we, have not seen the full statements and evidence of the Scottish Government. It is, after all, the Scottish Government which is under review in this Inquiry, and not our client."

Referring to the criminal trial documents, he added: "Again, our client will undertake to identify those documents and explain their relevance as part of his submission. 

"The issue remains, however, that we are under an obligation not to share that material without the express consent of the Lord Advocate. 

"We have no expectation whatsoever that he will agree to an application from our client for that purpose.

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"Equally, we are not minded to engage in the expense and time of protracted negotiations with the Crown on this point. 

"On this matter, unlike in the civil context, we are in the hands of the Committee. 

"Our proposal is that a list of documents be produced by our client and thereafter the Committee write to the Lord Advocate seeking to impress upon him the vital public interest in those documents being shared. 

"It is presumably the case that the Lord Advocate will find it much harder to refuse a Committee of the Scottish Parliament than a private citizen.

"We regret that this matter is taking so long to progress, but are not surprised. 

"It is consistent with the attitude and approach of the Scottish Government throughout the litigation, nevertheless, we hope that the good faith and constructive intention of our client is clear from the content of this letter.

"Mr Salmond will work with the Committee in any way he can to reach the shared goal of public disclosure of the relevant and necessary documents."

On Monday, Deputy First Minister John Swinney repeated the Government's refusal to hand over legal advice to ministers about the judicial review, saying it was covered by legal privilege.

Despite the committee urging the Government to waive its legal privilege - as it has done for three judge-led inquiries - Mr Swinney said that would not be in the public interest, and there were not "compellling reasons" for breaking the convention that legal advice to ministers is secret. 

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, a member of the inquiry, said: “This explosive letter reveals the extent of the Scottish Government’s failure to be fully transparent with the committee and the public.

“The invoking of legal privilege by powerful figures has become a regular fixture in this investigation and too many vital documents have been withheld from committee members.

“We simply cannot have the endemic culture of secrecy that permeates the Scottish Government and civil service inhibiting the progress of this committee any further.

“It is time for those who hold vital information to come clean with the committee so that we can get to the bottom of this affair together. The continued evasion is undignified, undemocratic and simply unacceptable. The secrecy must end: The truth must out.”

Tory committee member Murdo Fraser added: "We are approaching the last straw in the SNP Government’s repeated attempts to withhold information.

"Alex Salmond has now joined the chorus demanding that the SNP give up the documents they don’t want us to see.

"The Scottish public will not tolerate a whitewash. If the SNP continue to act like the inquiry is beneath them, we will never get answers about how half a million pounds was wasted.

"We have heard from Leslie Evans that she was aware of rumours about Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour.

"Now Nicola Sturgeon needs to break her silence about what she knew and when.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the Lord Advocate stated today, there are complex issues raised by the release of these documents.

"The Deputy First Minister has confirmed in his letter to the committee that the Government is taking steps with a view to enabling the Committee to have access to them, so far as possible, taking account of the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply.”