Bereaved families are considering a formal complaint to police after it was confirmed Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages sent and received during the pandemic were deleted.
Bereaved families are considering a formal complaint to police after it was revealed WhatsApp messages sent and received by Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic were deleted.
We have learned Scottish Covid Bereaved, a group of grieving families, met with their lead solicitor Aamer Anwar early on Saturday to discuss taking the action.
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard on Friday that the former first minister had “retained no messages whatsoever” from the time of the pandemic.
Her deputy, John Swinney, had an auto-delete function turned on, according to evidence, and Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, described wiping WhatsApp messages as a “pre-bed ritual”.
In a statement on Saturday, Sturgeon said that while messages were not retained on her own device, she was able to “obtain copies” and these have been submitted.
It has previously been reported that these are a small number obtained through colleagues’ phones or records.
A document presented during the hearing showed the former SNP leader admitted to using WhatsApp to share information and views with colleagues.
She says she conducted the Covid response “through formal processes” rather than through any informal messaging platform.
Could it be a criminal offence?
The Inquiries Act states it is a criminal offence if a person “intentionally suppresses or conceals a document that is, and that he knows or believes to be, a relevant document, or… intentionally alters or destroys any such document”.
The definition of a “relevant document” under the act is one that “it is likely that the inquiry panel would [if aware of its existence] wish to be provided with it”.
Anwar, a high-profile human rights lawyer, believes a criminal offence would have been committed if any deletion of material was carried out after February 28, 2022 – the official set up date for the Scottish Covid Inquiry.
He told us: “We are considering whether a complaint should be made to the police.
“We are obviously going through the Inquiries Act and there are lots of considerations to be had.
“I think the first issue is that it’s a matter for the inquiry to decide whether any appropriate steps need to be taken.
“However, that doesn’t preclude my clients going directly to Police Scotland and wanting an investigation into what has happened with the WhatsApps.”
‘We expected better’
Anwar described the deletion of messages as a “devastating betrayal” of the many promises made by the Scottish Government for full transparency and disclosure.
Boris Johnson said he was unable to supply any of his WhatsApp messages during the majority of the first lockdown because he could not remember his passcode.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak separately told the Inquiry he no longer has access to WhatsApp message from his time as chancellor.
Anwar said: “What I heard from my clients is that they expected better.
“They honestly believed there was a different style of government here. Nicola was lauded for her presentation during Covid.
“People genuinely believed in her and they now feel devastated, they feel betrayed, because they feel like they were lied to.”
What does Nicola Sturgeon say?
In a statement shared on x, formerly known as Twitter, Sturgeon said she intends to answer questions directly and openly when she gives evidence at the end of the month.
She said: “Contrary to the impression given in some coverage, the Inquiry does have messages between me and those I most regularly communicated with through informal means.
“Although these had not been retained on my own device, I was able to obtain copies which I submitted to the Inquiry last year.
“To be clear, I conducted the Covid response through formal processes from my office in St Andrews House, not through WhatsApp or any other informal messaging platform.
“I was not a member of any WhatsApp groups. The number of people I communicated with through informal messaging at all was limited.
“Also, any handwritten notes made by me were passed to my private office to be dealt with and recorded as appropriate.
“Throughout the entire process, I acted in line with Scottish Government policy.”
Last night, Anwar sought to rubbish Sturgeon’s statement.
He said: “We don’t accept that she never did any government business by WhatsApp.
“There were 137 groups. The idea that the first minister at the time of the pandemic wasn’t communicating by WhatsApp when the rest of her ministers were is simply unbelievable.”