All of Nicola Sturgeon’s pandemic WhatsApp messages deleted, Covid inquiry told

Friday 19 January 2024

All of Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages sent and received during the pandemic have been deleted, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

The former first minister has previously said she never used informal messaging to make decisions during the pandemic, but has been criticised for what opposition politicians consider an attempt to hide exchanges with key ministers and advisers.

It had been reported Ms Sturgeon’s messages from the time of the pandemic had been deleted, but Jamie Dawson KC – the counsel to the inquiry – said a table submitted by the Scottish Government confirmed that was the case.

“In the summary table that we see here, we can see that under the box ‘Nicola Sturgeon’ it says that ‘messages were not retained, they were deleted in routine tidying up of inboxes or changes of phones, unable to retrieve messages’,” Mr Dawson said.

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

The Edinburgh International Conference Centre where the UK Covid-19 Inquiry hearing is being held.

He went on to ask Lesley Fraser, the director-general corporate at the Scottish Government, if that was correct.

“That’s what that indicates to me,” she replied.

When the inquiry asked for messages retained by the Scottish Government, Mr Dawson said: “You provided us with none,” to which Ms Fraser said: “Correct.”

He went on to ask if the inquiry had “no access” to Ms Sturgeon’s messages in connection with the pandemic.

Ms Fraser said: “Ms Sturgeon will be able to explain this much better.

“Ms Sturgeon would have worked with her private office in order to ensure that her views and instructions were clearly understood and they may well have been informed by some of the exchanges she had with her chief of staff or with other ministers, but she would have relayed that to her private office and that would be then the instruction that went from private office and that would be retained.”

Asked if she is sure that is what would have happened, Ms Fraser said that course of action is “how Government works”, adding it is a “necessity” for information to be recorded, but she was unable to be absolutely sure.

In 2021, during one of the regular Covid-19 briefings she held, Ms Sturgeon gave an assurance that correspondence – including messages – would be handed to any future inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Ms Sturgeon said: “In the interests of everyone who has been impacted by the Covid pandemic, Nicola is committed to full transparency to both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

“Any messages she had, she handled and dealt with in line with the Scottish Government’s policies.

“Nicola has provided a number of written statements to the UK inquiry – totalling hundreds of pages – and welcomes the opportunity to give oral evidence to the inquiry again this month when she will answer all questions put to her.”

The former first minister will give evidence to the inquiry in the coming weeks.

Ms Fraser went on to reject assertions by Mr Dawson that the Scottish Government’s records policy was “not fit for purpose”, but she did accept there had been “hurt and frustration” caused due to messages not being handed to the inquiry.

Commenting afterwards, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed the actions may have been illegal and amounted to an attempt to hide information from the public.