Jason Leitch tells Covid inquiry WhatsApp deletion message was 'flippant exaggeration'
Scotland's national clinical director was making a "flippant exaggeration" when he said deleting WhatsApp messages was a "pre-bed ritual", the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.
Professor Jason Leitch gave evidence at the inquiry this morning.
Last week transcripts shown to the inquiry revealed how Leitch made the claim in a group chat.
He was responding to a message by Ken Thomson, the Scottish Government's former director general of strategy and affairs, who cautioned that the chat could be revealed through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
Leitch replied: "WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual."
Under questioning today, Leitch said that was a "slightly flippant" comment, saying: "It's an exaggeration. I didn't daily delete my WhatsApp."
Leitch said that he deleted "informal messaging that had led up to" work that had been "managed and dealt with", telling the inquiry: "This was a flippant exaggeration in an informal messaging group and it wasn't done every day before I went to bed."
Inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC said the messages suggested that group chat members were "keen" to remove text that could be revealed through FOI.
Leitch rejected this, saying: "That isn't my position."
However, he said he had deleted WhatsApp messages in accordance with Scottish Government retention policies, with "any advice, or any decisions or anything that should be in the corporate record" having been "placed in that corporate record by email".
The inquiry was also shown messages between Leitch and then-health secretary Humza Yousaf in November 2021 over mask-wearing.
Yousaf asked if he needed his mask on at an event if he was "standing talking to folk".
Leitch said: "Officially yes. But literally no one does. Have a drink in your hands at all times. Then you're exempt. So if someone comes and you stand, lift your drink."
Leitch said the guidance at that point was "tricky", stating: "I understood the rules and I understood what we were trying to do but the reality of life and the environment in which we were trying to do these things perhaps suggests this guidance was nuanced rather than entirely right."
Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to give evidence to the inquiry next week.
Responding to Leitch's evidence, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: "Whether messages were deleted nightly or weekly, it is clear that Jason Leitch wiped his messages completely and seemed to find the period during the pandemic all quite funny judging from the messages we have seen.
"If the Scottish Government agrees that his behaviour was inappropriate then it is time Mr Leitch was sacked."
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said it is "important" that "lessons are learned from the pandemic to help us to prepare better for the future". She said: "This government will fully comply with the inquiry."