In a surprising turn of events, it has come to light that crucial Covid-19 related WhatsApp messages sent by Nicola Sturgeon, the former First Minister of Scotland, were intentionally deleted from her phone, as revealed by the Sunday Mail.
Shockingly, this revelation extends to several other high-ranking government figures, including current First Minister Humza Yousaf and former Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who also claim to have lost access to their respective WhatsApp message histories.
Remarkably, only one senior figure, former Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, has provided messages, though they are not complete. This development has prompted Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie to question the transparency of the SNP government, stating that these revelations cast doubt on their commitment to full cooperation with the Covid inquiries.
Furthermore, national clinical director Jason Leitch admitted to routinely deleting his messages, a revelation that has left the Scottish Covid Bereaved community deeply unsettled. Aamer Anwar, lead solicitor for the Scottish Covid Bereaved, expressed disbelief that senior figures, including Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, and Humza Yousaf, failed to preserve their WhatsApp communications over the two-year pandemic period.
Anwar emphasized that by August 2021, when the public inquiry was announced, it should have been abundantly clear that those involved in pivotal pandemic decision-making ought to cease deleting evidence. The families represented by the Scottish Covid Bereaved deserve nothing less than the truth.
In response to inquiries about the deleted messages, a spokeswoman for Nicola Sturgeon assured that she remains committed to providing all pertinent information to the inquiry, emphasizing her cooperation with both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries. The spokeswoman mentioned that Sturgeon has recently submitted an extensive written statement to the UK inquiry, spanning around 200 pages, and anticipates providing oral testimony in the coming year.
It is crucial to note that WhatsApp played a pivotal role in ministerial and official discussions regarding pandemic policy. This revelation has understandably incensed families who lost loved ones or faced considerable hardships during the Covid crisis.
The inquiry has identified 137 WhatsApp groups of interest, involving around 70 ministers and officials who have been called upon to furnish their message histories. Jamie Dawson KC, lead council for the UK inquiry, expressed surprise that so many messages from political figures and officials have been deleted. He noted that while messaging platforms like WhatsApp were employed for critical communications, the majority of these messages have not been retained.
In a legal battle with the UK government, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s messages were initially withheld from the Covid inquiry on the grounds of irrelevance. However, the High Court ruled against this, asserting that it was the inquiry chair’s prerogative to determine the relevance of the material.
Scottish Government policy mandates the retention of communications necessary to support business requirements and legal obligations, and explicit directives against destruction have been issued concerning Covid-related communications.
In light of these developments, Humza Yousaf has instructed Solicitor General Ruth Charteris to investigate whether WhatsApp messages should have been retained. Yousaf maintains that the Scottish Government has a longstanding policy regarding the preservation of documents and written correspondences, including emails and social media messages.
The UK Covid Inquiry aims to scrutinize the UK’s pandemic response and its impact. The Scottish inquiry, on the other hand, focuses specifically on decisions made by the Scottish government. In a strongly-worded letter to Yousaf, solicitor Aamer Anwar criticized the Scottish Government’s stance and demanded the immediate surrender of relevant materials.
Anwar sought answers regarding the potential use of an auto-delete function on WhatsApp, who authorized it, when deletions occurred, and why, following the announcement of the public inquiry, an order to cease further deletions was not issued.
The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated. It is imperative that government officials remain accountable and transparent, especially in matters of such profound public interest. The pursuit of truth, justice, and accountability demands that no individual, regardless of their stature, be allowed to impede these inquiries. The families affected, and indeed all of Scotland, deserve nothing less.