Humza Yousaf admits SNP ministers encouraged to delete WhatsApps
Humza Yousaf admits SNP ministers were encouraged to ‘routinely delete’ WhatsApp messages amid row over Nicola Sturgeon’s texts during Covid pandemic
Humza Yousaf today admitted SNP ministers were encouraged to ‘routinely delete’ WhatsApp messages amid a row over texts from the Covid pandemic.
The First Minister revealed there was a ‘social media messaging policy’ that required Scottish Government figures to remove their communications.
There is concern about the extent of evidence being handed over to the UK’s Covid Inquiry by those who headed Scotland’s response to the crisis.
Opponents have questioned ‘what the SNP government is trying to hide’ following claims ex-first minister Nicola Sturgeon manually deleted WhatsApps from her phone.
The Sunday Mail reported that documents given to the inquiry show she is among a number of senior Scottish Government figures to have said their WhatsApp data no longer exists.
It has also been claimed that Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s clinical director, cleared his messages every day and so does not have any left from the outbreak of the virus.
Humza Yousaf admitted SNP ministers were encouraged to ‘routinely delete’ WhatsApp messages amid a row over texts from the Covid pandemic.
Opponents have questioned ‘what the SNP government is trying to hide’ following claims ex-first minister Nicola Sturgeon manually deleted WhatsApps from her phone
Speaking to reporters today, Mr Yousaf – who was Scotland’s health secretary between May 2021 and March this year – stressed he had kept his own WhatsApp messages.
‘I have kept WhatsApp messages and fully intend to hand them over to the Covid inquiry,’ the SNP leader said.
‘Whatever the Covid inquiry wishes to see, I’m more than happy to do that. I’ve certainly retained my WhatsApp messages.’
Asked about reports that both Ms Sturgeon and Professor Leitch had deleted their messages, Mr Yousaf added: ‘I’m confident the former first minister can speak for herself in terms of what she has kept, what she has retained and what she hasn’t done and the rationale for that.
‘Remember, of course, we had a social media messaging policy which actually required us to routinely delete WhatsApp messages, and that was the policy at the time.
‘Of course, the ‘do not destroy’ notice is one that I expect everybody to comply with – Scottish Government ministers, former ministers and, of course, government officials, clinical directors and clinical advisers.
‘That is my expectation.’
A Scottish Covid inquiry, announced by Ms Sturgeon in May 2020 as an addition to the UK probe, issued a ‘do not destroy’ order at the beginning of August 2022.
This means it could be an offence for witnesses to have deleted Covid-related messages after that date.
The UK inquiry’s legal team has said it believes the ‘majority’ of messages shared among Scottish Government officials during the pandemic ‘have not been retained’.
The Scottish Government said reports on Friday suggesting Professor Leitch was among people who did not keep informal messages were incorrect.
Scottish Labour has written to Scotland’s most senior civil servant, John-Paul Marks, asking for an urgent update on the state of data retention in the Scottish Government.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said ‘These bombshell revelations call into question what the SNP government is trying to hide.
‘Humza Yousaf said his government would co-operate fully with the Covid inquiries but this promise has been left in tatters.’
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Nicola will continue to provide all information requested by the inquiry that she holds and will continue to co-operate fully with both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.
‘She has recently submitted her third written statement to the UK inquiry, running to around 200 pages, and expects to give oral evidence again next year when she will answer all questions put to her.’
Commenting in relation to all the former Scottish Government ministers, including Ms Sturgeon, an SNP spokesman said: ‘There has never been any hesitation by former members of the Scottish Government to provide any and all information they hold, when appropriately and legally requested by the UK and Scottish inquiries, and they will continue to co-operate fully.
‘It would not be appropriate to comment further.’
There has also been a row over the retention of WhatsApp messages among UK Government ministers and officials.
The UK inquiry today heard how Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary for former prime minister Boris Johnson, turned on a ‘disappearing message function’ on a WhatsApp group titled ‘PM Updates’ on April 15, 2021.
Asked why he had turned the function on, Mr Reynolds said: ‘I can guess or I can speculate, but I cannot recall exactly why I did so.’
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