Sturgeon gave academic ‘private’ SNP email address during Covid chat

Professor Devi Sridhar told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that the former first minister had provided her with a non-government email address.

Nicola Sturgeon gave academic ‘private’ SNP email address during Covid chat PA Media

Nicola Sturgeon gave a public health expert a “private” SNP email address during an online conversation around Covid, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

The former first minister spoke a number of times with Edinburgh University academic Professor Devi Sridhar through the course of the pandemic over direct messages on X, formerly Twitter.

In an exchange between the two in June 2020, Prof Sridhar – one of the country’s leading experts and most public academics during the pandemic – said she had prepared a note for the chief medical officer on “key steps to managing the outbreak in Scotland looking forward”.

She added that she was “happy to share a draft” but was unaware if that would “overstep or break protocol”.

Prof Devi Sridhar was one of the most public academics during the pandemic
Devi Sridhar was one of the most public academics during the pandemic.

Responding, Sturgeon said: “That would be helpful. (Don’t worry about protocol – tackling the virus more important than that and I’ll handle any issues on that front).”

She went on to tell the academic to send the information to her “privately”, providing an SNP email address or “officially” using her Scottish Government email address.

“Either way fine by me,” she added, in the screenshot of the message Prof Sridhar provided to the inquiry.

Sturgeon, who went on to provide a mobile number at which she could be reached, continued: “Feel free to do so if you think there’s anything I’m not aware of or not adequately taking account of – or just getting wrong.

“I am extremely anxious about the fragility of the position just now – so very grateful for any advice.”

Asked by counsel to the inquiry, Jamie Dawson KC, which address she used in this instance, Prof Sridhar said she could not recall, adding: “My sense was that, anyways, both were being read by everybody.”

The messages were shown to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Tuesday
The messages were shown to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Tuesday.

She added she would not have “made a distinction” between the two addresses.

Asked after the hearing about the use of an SNP email for Government business, a spokesperson for the SNP referred back to a statement posted on X by Sturgeon on Saturday, where she said: “Throughout the entire process, I acted in line with Scottish Government policy.

“I did my level best to lead Scotland through the pandemic as safely as possible – and shared my thinking with the country on a daily basis.

“I did not get every decision right – far from it – but I was motivated only, and at all times, by the determination to keep people as safe as possible.”

But the PA news agency understands, from a source close to the former first minister, that she forwarded any email from Prof Sridhar to her private SNP account onto the Scottish Government and offered to provide the correspondence to the inquiry if necessary.

The inquiry also heard there had been no contact between the two women on WhatsApp, only through direct messages on X, emails, face-to-face meetings and phone calls.

The messages between Prof Sridhar and Sturgeon also hit out at media coverage of the academic’s comments.

In one exchange in May 2020, Prof Sridhar said her “words had been twisted” in recent coverage, adding it was “hard with journalists sometimes”.

Responding, Sturgeon said: “Don’t worry – I fully understand how the media can twist words, sometimes deliberately.

“I think what you say is very powerful and clear though – and has had a big influence on my thinking.”

Prof Sridhar also lamented the level of abuse her prominence during the pandemic had resulted in, telling the inquiry she had done her “tour of duty” and would return to a less public-facing role.

She told the inquiry she had faced “death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it, xenophobia”.

“And I’ve taken it, because I think the bigger idea is that we try to help each other and do good and I stay true to that,” she said.

Female members of her research team at Edinburgh University, she added, “don’t want to go near public service or the media”, leaving the academic to ask “who’s going to step up next time?”

The inquiry, taking place before Baroness Heather Hallett in Edinburgh, continues.

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