The First Minister has rejected claims he and his deputy misled the Scottish Parliament over the demand to hand over WhatsApps sent during the Covid pandemic.
Pressed by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Humza Yousaf did however admit that the Government had interpreted requests for messages from the UK Covid-19 Inquiry “too narrowly”.
Deputy first minister Shona Robison was forced to release a timeline of events on Wednesday, stating that requests for WhatsApp messages had been made in February as opposed to September, as previously stated.
Asked to admit he “didn’t tell the truth”, by Ross, the First Minister said: “I absolutely refute that.”
He added: “Clearly, I was talking about specific WhatsApp groups.
“Where I do accept fully from the inquiry is that we have interpreted their requests too narrowly and subsequently having done so we have then supplied 14,000 messages to the inquiry.”
The Scottish Government published a timeline of its dealings with the UK Covid Inquiry, saying it has handed over all the messages it held.
The timeline revealed the Inquiry first asked for relevant WhatsApps nine months ago.
Last week, Humza Yousaf said the Government had only been asked to submit the messages in September.
The Scottish Conservatives and Labour accused Yousaf and deputy first minister Shona Robison of misleading parliament.
The Scottish Government said it has co-operated with the Covid Inquiry.
Scottish Government’s timeline of Covid Inquiry requests
Robison said the Inquiry made an initial draft request of the Scottish Government on November 4, 2022, asking whether WhatsApp groups were used by the government under Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006.
In February 2023, the Inquiry sent a final version of the Rule 9 Request and asked for “communications relating to key decisions” including emails, texts and WhatsApp messages held by the government.
The Scottish Government said it submitted draft responses through the spring of 2023.
Its timetable publication said: “In those responses it made clear that all key decisions and decision making were recorded on the Scottish Government corporate record.
“No WhatsApp messages were submitted as part of those responses.”
The inquiry made a further request in June 2023 seeking details of the Scottish Government’s policy on informal messaging.
This asked for the names of any such groups, their members and their roles.
In September 2023, the inquiry asked for the messages within those WhatsApp groups to be handed over.
A number of requests were sent to ministers, civil servants and former ministers in July and August 2023.
The Government said there was a “large amount of sensitive and personal information contained within the WhatsApp messages” and in order to comply with data protection laws it requested a Section 21 notice to hand them over.
When this was supplied, the Government was given a deadline of November 6 to hand over the messages.
The Government’s publication said: “The Scottish Government complied with this deadline and released all such messages it held to the inquiry on November 6.”
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