Nicola Sturgeon’s deletion of WhatsApp messages during the Covid pandemic was “appalling”, Labour’s deputy leader has said.
Angela Rayner told STV News the former first minister knew they held “vital pieces of information” when she wiped them from her phone.
She was asked about Sturgeon’s appearance at the UK Covid Inquiry, which was held in Edinburgh this week, during a visit to Glenkinchie Distillery in East Lothian on Friday.
The shadow deputy prime minister said the deleted WhatsApp messages would lead to accusations that Sturgeon put secrecy over transparency with the public.
“If you deleted those messages you’re not giving the full picture and of course [the public] are going to think, cynically, why did you delete them?” she said.
“Did you not want to give people a full and transparent view of what happened over that period?
“I think it was wholly irresponsible and it’s this secrecy.
“I think it’s terrible that it was deleted and the families are absolutely right to question why did you do that and question the motives for that.”
Following Sturgeon’s testimony to the UK Covid Inquiry, the Scottish Covid Bereaved labelled her Scotland’s “master of spin” while a member of the group accused her of crocodile tears after she became emotional during the six-and-a-half-hour session.
Sturgeon admitted to the probe that she had deleted her WhatsApp messages during the pandemic but she denied accusations of secrecy within her government.
She said she followed government policy on wiping WhatsApps but said relevant material would be put into the public record.
She said she did not use informal messaging to make decisions during the pandemic.
As she began giving evidence at the hearing in Edinburgh, the former first minister of Scotland was shown her statement to the inquiry, where she said there was a “high degree of formality around Scottish Government decision making”.
Her statement continued: “During the pandemic I did not make extensive use of informal messaging and certainly did not use it to make decisions.”
She maintained the Scottish Government was “open, transparent and accountable” throughout its pandemic response.
She said she deleted these informal messages, in line with official advice, and “salient” points were all recorded on the corporate record.
She said: “I operated from 2007, based on advice, the policy that messages, business relating to government, should not be kept on a phone that could be lost or stolen and insecure in that way, but properly recorded through the system.”
Alex Salmond, who was Scotland’s first minister from 2007 until 2014, denied there was a WhatsApp deletion policy in place.
“I was first minister between 2007 and 2014,” he said. “I know of no policy that says that people were meant to delete their WhatsApps or text messages.
“As far as I’m concerned, no such policy was in existence, if there had been I would have had to sign off on it as first minister, I certainly didn’t.”
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