Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid WhatsApp messages were deleted

Nicola Sturgeon says she was co-operating with the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

By Lucy Ashton

WhatsApp messages sent by Nicola Sturgeon relating to the Covid pandemic were manually deleted from her phone, a newspaper has reported.

The Sunday Mail says the former first minister is among 70 Scottish government figures whose pandemic communications were not retained.

It means these messages cannot be given to the UK or Scottish Covid inquiries into how the pandemic was handled.

Ms Sturgeon’s spokesperson said she was co-operating with both inquiries.

It was also reported that, according to UK Covid inquiry documents, WhatsApp data from First Minister Humza Yousaf and former deputy first minister John Swinney no longer exists.

It comes after Scottish ministers faced criticism last week for not handing over their messages.

The UK inquiry was told by a lawyer that 70 individuals were asked for their WhatsApp messages, but “very few appear to have been retained”.

On Thursday, it was also reported that national clinical director Jason Leitch deleted messages every day during the pandemic.

It emerged there were at least 137 WhatsApp groups being used across the Scottish government and its agencies during Covid.

Members of the Scottish branch of the UK group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and solicitor Aamer Anwar
Solicitor Aamer Anwar is representing members of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group.

Aamer Anwar, lead solicitor for Scottish Covid Bereaved families group, told BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show that the Scottish government had not given details of when messages were deleted.

He highlighted that Ms Sturgeon announced in May 2020 that there would be a Scottish Covid inquiry, which was later confirmed in August 2021.

Mr Anwar said: “From May 2020, if there was a position of auto-delete, if there was a situation where government ministers and senior civil servants were deleting their WhatsApps, it should have been ordered to stop.

“We want to know when was the deletion brought in, who ordered it, why was it not ordered to be stopped?

“And did they continue after the event? Because that’s deletion of material.”

Jason Leitch
Jason Leitch was reported to have deleted messages daily during the pandemic

The Scottish government said it was committed to co-operating with the inquiry and providing any requested material that it holds.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison, below,  said: “The Scottish government records management policy makes clear what must be recorded in the official record, given that it isn’t practical, cost-effective or necessary for any organisation to retain every exchange.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison

“While it is not the culture within Scottish government to use WhatsApp for decision-making, our records management policy states clearly that government decisions, however they are made, should be recorded in the official record.”

A spokesperson for Ms Sturgeon said she would continue to provide all information requested by the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

They said: “She has recently submitted her third written statement to the UK inquiry – running to around 200 pages – and expects to give oral evidence again next year when she will answer all questions put to her.”

Top picture: Jane Morrison, a member of the covid bereaved families group.

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