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by Louise Wilson
25 January 2024
Humza Yousaf did delete WhatsApp messages, inquiry hears

Yousaf was giving evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry | Alamy

Humza Yousaf did delete WhatsApp messages, inquiry hears

Humza Yousaf did delete WhatsApp messages he sent during the course of the pandemic, despite denying reports he had done so.

The first minister, who was giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday afternoon, confirmed he had initially been unable to supply those messages because they had not been retained.

This was, he said, in line with Scottish Government policy at the time.

In a submission from the Scottish Government to the inquiry, it was confirmed Yousaf – who at the time was health secretary – had “used WhatsApp with Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney to discuss matters”.

It also confirmed he exchanged messages with then junior health ministers Kevin Stewart and Maree Todd, and was part of Matt Hancock’s ‘Health 4 Nations’ WhatsApp group.

“Any decisions made were recorded through the appropriate channels,” the submission added. Yousaf clarified this included both decisions and “salient points” relating to those decisions.

He confirmed “some” of those messages were then deleted, as per government guidance.

This is despite telling the press that it was “certainly not true” that he had not kept messages. In late October, he said: “I have kept and retained all of the WhatsApp messages and I am more than happy to hand them over to the Covid inquiry.”

But the inquiry submission, dated 13 October, proved Yousaf believed he had deleted the messages.

The first minister was later able to supply them from an old handset. He explained he had checked the device previously but as he had migrated his WhatsApp account to a new phone, the messages did not appear – but when he logged out of his WhatsApp account on his new phone, the messages reappeared on the old one.

Counsel to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC asked: “You were under the impression that the messages had been deleted previously, in accordance with an existing government policy, but in fact it transpired they had not been deleted and were in fact recoverable relatively easily?”

Yousaf replied: “Yes.”

When later asked about the recording of any informal messages, Yousaf said that “not every sentence, full stop, apostrophe, would be recorded – nor would it require to be recorded”, but that he would “always endeavor to put them on the corporate record”.

The first minister was also asked about the conversation he had with national clinical director Jason Leitch in which he was seemingly advised to “have a drink in your hands at all times” in order to be exempt from a face mask requirement at an event.

Yousaf said he was seeking clarification on the guidance given the extra scrutiny he was under as the new health secretary. On Leitch’s response, he said this was his “casual way of speaking”.

Dawson said: “Professor Leitch was giving you a loophole or a workaround to try and enable you not to comply with the rules, isn’t that right?”

To which Yousaf replied: “No. Again, I was asking clarification on how to comply. He was of course telling me how to comply… I never asked for a workaround or how not to comply.”

Messages between Yousaf and former deputy first minister Swinney also revealed he had, as justice secretary, described police union the Scottish Police Federation as a “disgrace”. He accused them of showing “arrogance and retrograde thinking”.

Speaking at the inquiry, he said he “regrets” his words now and he was simply “venting” to a colleague.

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