Information watchdog ‘concerned’ after Covid inquiry WhatsApp revelations

Scotland’s information commissioner said he needed to establish if he had a ‘locus’ on the matter.

Scotland’s information commissioner said he is “concerned” by recent revelations at the UK Covid Inquiry, saying there may be implications for freedom of information.

However, David Hamilton said he first needed to establish if he had a “locus” on the matter before launching any investigation.

It comes after the inquiry was told last week that all of Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages during the pandemic had been deleted.

The former first minister said the inquiry does have messages between herself and those she regularly communicated with, and that decisions on the pandemic were recorded formally in line with Scottish Government policy.

Sturgeon said she will answer questions “directly and openly” when she appears at the inquiry later this month.

The inquiry also heard a message from national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch suggesting he deleted messages every day as a “pre-bed ritual”.

Mr Hamilton, whose remit is to enforce freedom of information law, was asked about the issue on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Monday.

He said: “What we need to look at is the principles of the freedom of information regime, and that’s my locus in this, not the particular aspects of the inquiry.

“Some of the threads which came out there are a bit concerning frankly.”

He added: “We need to look at that and see if there is an issue for freedom of information that I need to be looking at.”

Mr Hamilton said he is committed to protecting the freedom of information regime, saying it is “critical to democracy”.

He is looking at previous freedom of information requests to see if anything could have been affected by the issue raised at the inquiry.

Some evidence suggested the principles of freedom of information may have been “subverted”, he said, noting, in itself, that would not be enough for him to take action.

Mr Hamilton said: “Some of the material that came out last week, I think many people would say it beggars belief in terms of what it is.

“Of course, that needs context and it needs investigation if there’s something wrong there.”

Baroness Hallett’s inquiry is due to continue on Monday and will hear evidence from Scotland’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Gregor Smith.

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