THE SNP's chief operating officer says she was the victim of "an act of physical aggression" by Alex Salmond.

However Sue Ruddick's claim has been disputed by another senior SNP staffer, who said she witnessed the event, and that it was nothing more than a "brush past".

READ MORE: Alex Salmond inquiry: Committee says trial material shows 'safe space'

Details of the allegation came as Ruddick hit out at members of the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond affair, accusing them of “bullying and intimidating” the women who complained about the former First Minister.

The cross-party committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s flawed probe into allegations of misconduct made against Alex Salmond by two civil servants.

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

At a later criminal case the former SNP leader was found not guilty on 12 counts of sexual assault.

Last week, the MSPs on the committee refused to publish messages between women which it had received from the Crown Office.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani said these messages were clearly “safe spaces for confidential support” and outwith the remit of the inquiry.

On Monday morning, Ruddick revealed that she was one of the women whose messages had been obtained by MSPs.

She said the committee had allowed itself to be led by people close to Salmond.

Ruddick said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the committee is determined to ignore complainers privacy rights and refer to, act upon and make public – whether in writing or through oral reference in a public session – private, confidential communications, despite having no lawful power to do so.

“Private communications between myself and Mr Murrell are in no way relevant to this committee’s remit.

“I am not a government employee and had no role in the complaints process of the Scottish Government.

“The messages the committee saw last week confirm I reported to Police Scotland an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond.

“The messages confirmed there was no conspiracy.

“Having read those messages, the committee stated its desire to avoid further distress to complainers, yet just a few days later, considers it proportionate to act on my private communications, against my express wishes, when they have been unlawfully obtained and produced.”

Ruddick continued: “Last week it appeared, briefly, that the complainers’ rights had finally been taken into account; yet within minutes press reporting suggested this conclusion was wholly unfounded.

“It would be nothing short of astonishing if, as media reports suggest, the committee intends to discuss or seek production of further messages, despite the clear and obvious breach of my privacy rights, notwithstanding the further distress that would involve.”

Ruddick said her privacy had been breached repeatedly through “selective leaks” over the past several months.

She continued: “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.

“Publication and discussion of private messages relating to a police complaint are outwith the committee’s remit, and offering support to a friend and complainer is not a conspiracy.

“It is, however, a complete invasion of my privacy and has already led to further distress to the other women involved in complaints against Mr Salmond, and those we turned to for support.

“In my case, this included Peter Murrell.”

She added: “The bullying and intimidation of complainers through use of their private and personal communications must end now.

“It is incredibly disappointing that complainers’ personal experiences of Mr Salmond are being ignored, and that this committee has allowed itself to be led by selective quoting, leaks and false allegations, all made in an attempt by Mr Salmond and those around him to bolster his reputation.”

On Monday evening, Salmond's lawyers released a statement from Anne Harvey, the principal assistant to the SNP's Chief Whip at Westminster, which claimed the contact between the former SNP leader and Ruddick was "absolutely inadvertent and in no way deliberate or aggressive".

She claimed she knew Ruddick’s statement was wrong "since I was the only witness to this supposed event."

Harvey added: "She is referring to an incident in the Glenrothes by-election in which we campaigned together. We were ‘door-knocking’ and leafletting in a block of flats during a media event.

"Alex walked past Sue in the stairwell of a close. He brushed past her on the stairwell as he was heading to leave the close. I saw and heard nothing which caused me any alarm or concern. I was only yards away.

"This is the incident she is referring to, but I can categorically confirm that there was no physical aggression on the part of Mr Salmond. Any contact at all between him and her that day was absolutely inadvertent and in no way deliberate or aggressive.

"To put this into context, before lockdown, I would see similar contact between MPs as they make their way to the voting lobby during the division bell.

"I know this because the police questioned me extensively about it and, furthermore, I am aware no further action was taken against Mr Salmond. That is because it simply did not happen as described by Sue Ruddick.

"This complaint was only made to the police after Mr Salmond pursued the Scottish Government in his judicial review, ten years later.

"I should also say that I was at the time close friends with Sue. I was staying at her house. I was in the car with her to and from the event and I know that, for other unrelated reasons which I won’t disclose, she was upset that day before and after the event.

"More generally, there have been discussion again today about whether there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond. I have believed for some time that there was what I described in writing on 28 August 2018 as a ‘witch-hunt’ against him after receiving what I considered to be an improper request from SNP HQ seeking to damage Mr Salmond.

"I have offered to provide a detailed affidavit along with the contents of this statement to Mr Salmond’s lawyers."

Responding to Harvey's claim, an SNP spokesperson - responding on Ruddick's behalf - said: “Mr Salmond clearly agreed he behaved inappropriately as he called repeatedly to apologise. Ms Harvey was not present at the time of this incident.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland received a report of common assault which was thoroughly investigated.

“There was insufficient corroborative evidence to charge, however, the circumstances were included in our report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”