Dame Jackie Baillie, Professor Jason Leitch and First Minister Humza Yousaf.
By Bill Heaney
Scottish Labour has called for an investigation into a potential breach of the Ministerial Code by Humza Yousaf following the bombshell revelations about Jason Leitch destroying WhatsApps.
The party’s Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie wrote to the First Minister highlighting inconsistencies between his past comments in the chamber and the evidence that has since come to light.
Under questioning from Anas Sarwar in June, Mr Yousaf pledged that the Scottish Government had fully complied with the “do not destroy” order, would provide all requested information to both Covid inquiries, and had a longstanding policy of correspondence retention applying to messages such as WhatsApp.
Scottish Labour has called for an investigation into whether the First Minister misled Parliament, an urgent statement, and a guarantee that the findings of the investigation into Professor Leitch’s compliance with the “do not destroy” order are made public.
Jackie Baillie’s letter to Humza Yousaf, copied to the Permanent Secretary:
FMQs June 29:
Anas Sarwar: Will the First Minister confirm that all ministers and officials, past and present, have complied with the do not destroy instruction? Will he give a guarantee that all requested emails, texts and WhatsApp messages will be handed over in full to the inquiry?
Humza Yousaf: Yes, they will. […] To ensure that there is simply no doubt whatsoever, any material that is asked for—WhatsApp messages, emails, Signal messages, Telegram messages or whatever—will absolutely be handed over to the Covid inquiries and handed over to them in full. […]
It is really important for me to reiterate that, of course, we have—and have had—a long-standing policy on retention not just of documents but of written correspondence, including email and social media messages.
Jason Leitch ‘deleted WhatsApp messages every day’ during Covid pandemic: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jason-leitch-deleted-whatsapp-messages-every-day-during-covid-pandemic-ffwb3thdg
Full text of letter:
Dear First Minister,
I am writing to you to raise serious concerns that you have misled the Scottish Parliament regarding the Scottish Government’s co-operation with the Covid inquiries. I also have sent a copy of this letter to the Permanent Secretary.
During First Ministers Questions on 29 June 2023 you gave an unequivocal guarantee that all ministers and officials, past and present, had complied with the “do not destroy” instruction and that all requested emails, texts and WhatsApp messages would be handed over in full to the inquiry.
However, the Times has since revealed that WhatsApp messages belonging to the Scottish Government’s clinical director Jason Leitch have been destroyed and cannot be handed to official inquiries.
Professor Leitch has claimed that he was unable to comply with the “do not destroy” order he was issued with as he deletes his WhatsApp messages daily. This appears to contradict your assurance that the Scottish Government has “a long-standing policy on retention not just of documents but of written correspondence, including email and social media messages”.
It is always essential that politicians uphold the highest standards of honesty and accuracy in the Scottish Parliament – and that is even more important on a matter as serious as the Covid inquiry. Bereaved families deserve answers about what happened during the pandemic and your government owes them total transparency.
This new evidence strongly suggests the statements you made in Parliament were not accurate and you may therefore have misled Parliament. At the least there must be an investigation into whether this constitutes a breach of the Ministerial Code.
Furthermore, I hope you will make a statement to the Parliament as a matter of urgency in order to correct the record. It is essential that you explain why you seemingly misled MSPs and confirm whether any other information required by the Covid inquiries has in fact been destroyed or withheld.
I welcome the news that the Solicitor General will investigate whether any “do not destroy” orders have been breached but it is unclear why this is only happening after you made the commitment to Parliament that such breaches had not occurred. I would be grateful if you could confirm that the findings of this investigation will be made public in full and without delay.
The public deserves to know the truth about what went so tragically wrong during the Covid pandemic and the destruction of evidence is a betrayal of all those fighting for justice.
I hope you will take these steps in order to rebuild trust in your government’s approach to these vital inquiries.