THE Holyrood committee probing the Scottish Government's botched handling of harassment allegations made against Alex Salmond have said they won’t publish WhatsApp messages handed over by the Crown Office.

Last month, MSPs took the unprecedented step of demanding prosecutors release communications between SNP chief operating officer Susan Ruddick and civil servants, ministers and special advisers, or other material relevant to its work.

Documents were handed over on Friday, but in a statement, convener Linda Fabiani said that the committee had “unanimously agreed that the private communications within the material will not be published”.

She added: “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.”

Some of the women who complained to police about Salmond said they were “deeply disappointed that the Committee had requested messages” and “deeply disturbed” that the Crown handed them over.

In a statement released by Rape Crisis Scotland on Tuesday, the women said the messages were “personal communications between friends who supported each other during a traumatic time.”

The cross-party committee is probing the Scottish Government’s investigation into allegations of misconduct made against the former First Minister.

Salmond had the exercise set aside in January 2019, with a judicial review declaring it “unlawful” and “tainted by bias”. The Government’s flawed handling ultimately cost the taxpayer half a million pounds.

At a later criminal case the former SNP leader was cleared on multiple sexual assault charges.

Supporters of Salmond have long claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy.

His legal team urged the Committee to seek messages held by the Crown which they say are proof of a plot to bring him down and prevent him rivalling Nicola Sturgeon.

MSPs had to ask the Crown for the messages as Salmond faced prosecution if he released the messages himself.

A Scottish Government source told The Herald the committee's statement "utterly destroys Alex Salmond’s ridiculous conspiracy theories."

They added: "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.”

However, another source told The National that the communications released by the Crown were not what the committee had asked for.  They described the documents handed over as a "blind". 

It's understood that the inquiry is expected to write back looking for communications involving the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

In their statement, the women said the group chat between "about which there has been much speculation" was "simply a support group for women who had already shared their experiences with the Police."

They added: "The selective quoting of messages by people with whom they should not have been shared has led to increasing pressure on the women involved.

“These messages, had they been published, would show clearly that there was no conspiracy between women, but bonds of friendship and support.

“There is no manual as to what happens to you when you speak to the Police and they inform you that the actions you describe could be criminal.

"There’s no handbook that sets out whether or how you’ll be protected, what your rights are and what happens to your identity.

"There’s no immediate offer of support from a third party, someone who can help guide you through the process.

"That simply isn’t there. So you turn to your friends and colleagues for support.

“And when the person you have been asked by Police Scotland to give evidence about is someone who was and is a hugely powerful figure, there is comfort in knowing that you are not the only one going through that experience, you find support in solidarity.

“It is impossible to counter claims of conspiracy by those who selectively choose messages, without any context. These are private and personal communications which should not need to be in the public domain to prove a theory false or for complainers to be believed.”

Salmond is expected to give evidence to MSPs next week.

Meanwhile, Douglas Ross has threatened to force a vote in Holyrood on claims Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament.

The Tory chief has said he will table the vote, unless SNP chief executive Peter Murrell appears before the committee.

The Tories say Murrell’s refusal to appear before MSPs breaks Sturgeon’s vow that her party would "comply fully" with the inquiry.