Sturgeon under fire for deleting WhatsApp messages during pandemic

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing criticism for deleting her WhatsApp messages with senior government officials and advisers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK Covid Inquiry has revealed that Sturgeon did not retain any informal communications related to her management of the health crisis, despite promising to do so in 2021.

Inquiry questions Sturgeon’s transparency and accountability

The UK Covid Inquiry, which is examining the official response to the pandemic, has asked for all relevant communications from government officials to be handed over for examination. However, Sturgeon, who stepped down as First Minister and SNP leader in March 2023, admitted that she deleted her WhatsApp messages in line with government policy. She said that decisions were not made via informal messages and that “salient” points were all recorded on the corporate record.

Sturgeon denied that deleting informal messages meant the inquiry or the public would be deprived of relevant material about how decisions were made during the pandemic. She said: “There would be nothing in those communications that was not available to either the inquiry or the public, through the record of the Scottish government, or indeed in the very detailed public statements that were being made every day.”

However, the inquiry has been shown some WhatsApp messages between Sturgeon and her former chief of staff Liz Lloyd, and current First Minister Humza Yousaf, that suggest government decision-making was regularly debated on the app. For example, in one message, Sturgeon described curfew rules imposed on hospitality businesses as being “so random”. She told Lloyd: “I am having a bit of a crisis in decision making in hospitality, not helped by the fact I haven’t slept. The public health argument says stick with 6pm/no alcohol for level 3. But I suspect the industry will go mad – and I worry we could derail debate.”

The inquiry lawyer Jamie Dawson KC questioned Sturgeon’s transparency and accountability, and asked why she did not keep the messages as evidence for the inquiry. He also pointed out that Sturgeon had told Channel 4 News in August 2021 that she would provide all relevant communications to the Scottish Covid Inquiry, which is being held separately from the UK-wide inquiry.

WhatsApp messages during pandemic

Sturgeon said she had been trying to answer the “substance” of the Channel 4 question, but said the “literal terms” of her answer may not have matched the question, which referred to the then first minister handing over “emails, WhatsApps, private emails… whatever”. “I accept that, and I apologise if that answer was not as clear,” Sturgeon said.

Opposition parties and survivors groups slam Sturgeon’s deletion policy

Opposition parties and survivors groups have accused Sturgeon and the Scottish government of an “industrial-scale” deletion policy in an attempt to avoid scrutiny and accountability. They have called for Sturgeon to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament on why messages were not kept, and for the Scottish government to change its policy on retaining informal communications.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Lib Dems leader, wrote for the Daily Record that Sturgeon’s silence was “an admission that her government thought it was and always would be above scrutiny”. He said: “Keeping schtum, however, isn’t fooling anyone. If Sturgeon has any shred of respect left for public life, the least she can do is address the questions and concerns now rising around her. These are the questions and concerns of bereaved families, of people who lost and sacrificed so much during one of the most troubling periods in our history.”

Annie Wells, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesperson, said: “This is a shocking revelation that shows Nicola Sturgeon has been hiding the truth from the public and the inquiry. She has been deleting WhatsApp messages that could have shed light on how she handled the pandemic, and why so many mistakes were made. This is a blatant attempt to evade scrutiny and accountability, and it raises serious questions about her integrity and honesty.”

A spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, a group representing more than 4,000 families who lost loved ones to the virus, said: “We are appalled by the news that Nicola Sturgeon deleted her WhatsApp messages during the pandemic. This is a betrayal of the trust and respect that we had for her as a leader. We deserve to know the truth about how the government responded to the pandemic, and why so many lives were lost. Deleting messages is not only disrespectful, but also potentially unlawful, as it could amount to destroying evidence.”

Sturgeon defends her record and expresses regret

Sturgeon defended her record as First Minister during the pandemic, and said she had acted in the best interests of the people of Scotland. She said she had been transparent and accountable throughout the crisis, and had communicated regularly with the public and the parliament. She said she had no regrets about the decisions she made, but expressed sorrow for the lives lost and the hardships endured by many.

Sturgeon said: “I am proud of the work that I and my government did during the pandemic, and I believe we did everything we could to protect the people of Scotland from this unprecedented threat. I have nothing to hide, and I have cooperated fully with the inquiry. I deleted my WhatsApp messages because that was the policy of the government, and I did not think they contained anything of substance or relevance. I apologise if that was a mistake, or if it gave the wrong impression.”

Sturgeon also said she had no intention of returning to politics, and that she was focused on her new role as the head of the Wellcome Trust, a global health charity. She said she wished her successor Humza Yousaf well, and hoped that Scotland would recover from the pandemic and achieve independence in the future.

By Axel Piper

Axel Piper is a renowned news writer based in Scotland, known for his insightful coverage of all the trending news stories. With his finger on the pulse of Scotland's ever-changing landscape, Axel brings the latest updates and breaking news to readers across the nation. His extensive knowledge of current affairs, combined with his impeccable research skills, allows him to provide accurate and comprehensive reporting on a wide range of topics. From politics to entertainment, sports to technology, Axel's articles are engaging and informative, keeping readers informed and up to date.

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