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by Kirsteen Paterson
25 January 2024
Nicola Sturgeon aide Liz Lloyd denies deleting messages to avoid Freedom of Information

Liz Lloyd and Nicola Sturgeon | Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon aide Liz Lloyd denies deleting messages to avoid Freedom of Information

Nicola Sturgeon's former chief of staff would not have "intentionally" deleted messages to dodge Freedom of Information laws, the UK Covid-19 inquiry has heard.

The former first minister did not retain any informal WhatsApp messages relating to the pandemic.

The inquiry has already heard that chief medical officer Gregor Smith told colleagues to clear these "every day" and that Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, said comments he made about a "pre-bed ritual" of getting rid of messages were a "flippant exaggeration".

Today the inquiry saw messages between Sturgeon and her former chief of staff Liz Lloyd, who handed them over.

Lloyd pictured leaving the inquiry in Edinburgh | Alamy

Lloyd said some of her messages are missing and despite efforts to get these back, she was unsuccessful.

And she said she had "no recollection" of reading the Scottish Government's policy on the retention of informal communications.

Lloyd said her email inbox "frequently breached government limits so there would be a need to make sure you were keeping the right stuff, to get rid of extraneous material" that was "not relevant".

Asked by inquiry chair Lady Hallett if she would have "deleted matters that might have been subject to a Freedom of Information request", Lloyd answered: "No, I don't think I would have. Certainly not intentionally anyway."

Lloyd said Sturgeon "only had one" mobile phone, which was a matter for her office.

She said secure apps are installed on ministerial devices and she retained her messages for reference, having provided relevant content for official records via other systems.

Lloyd said: "It's useless on my phone, it achieves nothing sitting on my phone, it needs to be somewhere in the government system to have any form of effect or to inform government's broader thinking."

On advisers "straying into political space", Lloyd was asked about a Twitter argument between Jason Leitch and then-Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, and about comments by Professor Devi Sridhar on independence allowing Scotland to manage the pandemic differently.

Lloyd said experts had taken on "a communications duty that they were not used to" and "enthusiasm to try and give the public answers" could see them "accidentally overstepping a line".

Asked how the public could differentiate between messaging that was political or scientific, Lloyd said: "I have, I think, more faith in the Scottish public than some people do that they are able to differentiate what is political from what is medical and clinical. 

"They watched a lot of information during that time. They watched these people give public statements a lot during that time, and I think the public knew. 

"I don't think those instances had a particular impact on trust."

Earlier the inquiry heard how Sturgeon called Boris Johnson a "f***ing clown" over his handling of the pandemic.

She is expected to give evidence next week.

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