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by Louise Wilson
19 January 2024
Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid WhatsApp messages deleted, inquiry hears

Colin Fisher / Alamy Stock Photo

Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid WhatsApp messages deleted, inquiry hears

None of Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages in relation to her handling of the pandemic have been retained, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been told.

A senior civil servant confirmed to the inquiry, which is currently sitting in Edinburgh, that the Scottish Government had not been able to supply the former first minister’s messages from its corporate record.

Lesley Fraser, the director-general corporate who is responsible for organisational improvement within the Scottish Government, said some records had not be retained due to the use of relatively new technologies.

Sturgeon has previously insisted she has “nothing to hide” from the inquiry but refused to say whether she had deleted messages.

It has been reported that Sturgeon and 70 other Scottish Government figures have not retained the messages, in some cases using an auto-delete function.

Council to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC today said it appeared all the messages had been “deleted in routine tidying up” and were unable to be retrieved.

He added: “What that tends to suggest is at the time that request was made Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister of Scotland, had retained no messages whatsoever in connection with her management of the pandemic.”

Fraser replied: “That's what that indicates to me.”

The UK Covid-19 inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to the pandemic. It has been taking evidence from senior Scottish Government officials this week.

First Minister Humza Yousaf is set to appear before the inquiry towards the end of next week. Sturgeon is expected to appear the following week.

Reports that the Scottish Government had failed to hand over WhatsApp messages first surfaced last autumn.

The row forced deputy first minister Shona Robison to confirm that more than 14,000 WhatsApps would be handed to the inquiry, including those from ministers and former ministers.

At the time, Robison said that it was not within the “culture” of the Scottish Government to make decisions via WhatsApp messages, which is why the information had not initially been provided to the inquiry.

Yousaf also previously said that it was Scottish Government policy to “routinely delete” messages.

The Scottish Conservatives accused the government of “a digital torching of vital evidence”. Leader Douglas Ross said: “Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney have huge questions to answer over their conduct in the wake of this devastating revelation.

“By deleting all their WhatsApp messages, they defied the inquiry’s clear instructions from June 2021 that all relevant messages had to be retained. Their actions may be illegal and beg a very simple question: what were they trying to hide?”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Sturgeon has “completely broken her promise” on ensuring the inquiry was handed all relevant information. She added: “This is nothing short of a shocking betrayal of the people of Scotland who suffered so much during the pandemic.”

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