According to a report in The Times, electronic messages sent by Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, in the fight against Covid have been deleted and cannot be provided to official inquiries.
It’s stated that Prof Leitch deleted his WhatsApp messages daily, resulting in none being available when a “do not destroy” notice was issued.
The Scottish government responded, stating that it is not their standard practice to use WhatsApp for decision-making. They emphasized that government decisions should be recorded in the official record, which has been provided to the UK inquiry.
The spokesperson mentioned that the UK inquiry had requested WhatsApp messages related to logistics and day-to-day communication, which the Scottish government is willing to provide, but they need a legal basis, such as a section 21 order, due to the personal information contained within.
Both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries had previously instructed participants not to delete electronic messages. However, the Times reported that Prof Leitch consistently deleted his WhatsApp messages, potentially resulting in the loss of critical communications from the pandemic period.
Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the inquiry, criticized the Scottish government for not handing over WhatsApp messages to the UK Covid inquiry, finding it “surprising” that so many messages had been deleted. First Minister Humza Yousaf stated that he takes these comments seriously and committed to providing all relevant information, including WhatsApp messages.
The UK Covid inquiry is examining the UK’s response to the pandemic, while a separate Scottish inquiry is specifically scrutinizing decisions made by the Scottish government. Margaret Waterton from the Scottish Covid Bereaved Group expressed incredulity and devastation over the reported deletion of important WhatsApp messages. She emphasized the importance of a thorough inquiry with access to all necessary information for justice, truth, and accountability.
BBC Scotland’s political correspondent, David Wallace Lockhart, highlighted that a lawyer for the UK-wide Covid inquiry found it surprising that so many Scottish government WhatsApp messages from the pandemic period seem to be missing.
The Times also reported that Prof Jason Leitch, a prominent figure in Scotland’s pandemic response, was among the officials who regularly deleted such messages. While the Scottish government clarified that decisions weren’t made over WhatsApp, the potential loss of these messages poses a challenge for any Covid inquiry seeking a comprehensive understanding of the decision-making process. Prof Leitch, known for his clear communication during the pandemic, now faces scrutiny over the deletion of his electronic communications.