Sturgeon 'committed to transparency' as messages to be sent to Covid probe

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said messages, mostly sent on WhatsApp, would be shared by November 6.

Scottish Government to hand over 14,000-plus messages to UK Covid Inquiry iStock

Nicola Sturgeon says she is committed to “full transparency” in the inquiry into Scotland’s handling of the Covid pandemic, despite press reports suggesting she had deleted WhatsApp messages from the time.

The former First Minister said she had set out a 200-page written statement on her actions during the health crisis to the UK probe – but declined to say whether or not encrypted messages on the app had been wiped.

It came moments after the Scottish Government confirmed more than 14,000 messages – including those of current FM Humza Yousaf – would be handed over to the investigation.

In a statement at Holyrood, deputy FM Shona Robison confirmed the Scottish Government had received a legal notice permitting it to hand over the messages on Monday.

The former First Minister said she 'handled' messages in line with policy at the time.STV News

The communications, including those from Scottish Government ministers and former ministers, are included in that, Robison said.

Sturgeon said she “dealt with the messages” in line with policy at the time, but declined to say whether that meant they were retrievable.

“I am committed to full transparency,” she said at Holyrood after exiting the chamber.

“I have just submitted my third written statement to the UK inquiry that runs to some 200 pages. I have been asked further questions by the inquiry which I am in the process of answering right now.

“As the deputy First Minister has just said in the chamber, the requests and the responses to the inquiry are confidential, so I cannot and will not go into them right now.

“Any messages I had, I handled and dealt with in line with policies set out by the deputy First Minister.

“I will be setting out to the inquiry how I operated and worked during the pandemic, what I hold, what I don’t hold and the reasons for that.”

The deputy FM said a legal order, known as a Section 21 notice, had been required before the messages could be handed over because “a number of them were of a particularly personal nature, including photos of individuals’ children and personal medical details”.

With the order now received, Robison told MSPs at Holyrood that work was “well under way” to ensure the messages would be handed over by the deadline set by the inquiry.

She added: “This will mean that all requested messages held will be shared, in full and unredacted, by November 6.”

Robison said the Scottish Government would “share over 14,000 mainly WhatsApp messages from various groups and individuals over the period of the pandemic”.

The deputy FM added: “In instances where it appears as though messages may not be available, including through deletion in line with civil service policies on data management and retention, advice has been sought as to whether device owners or a third party are able to recover material.”

Analysis: Scottish Government facing scrutiny over Covid WhatsApp messages

Robison was giving a statement to MSPs at Holyrood after counsel to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC revealed last week that “no messages” from within the Scottish Government had been provided.

There then followed press reports that Sturgeon, as well as national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch and chief medical officer Dr Sir Gregor Smith, had deleted their messages.

Margaret Waterton, of the Scottish Covid Bereaved Group, claimed it was “shameful” the Scottish Government had not yet provided the information.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday, Ms Waterton, who lost her mother and husband to the illness, said: “The situation this week with Scottish Government not having brought forward the information that it was requested to provide to the inquiry some considerable time ago, I think, frankly, is shameful.”

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