The Scottish government has been instructed to make public all of its WhatsApp conversations from the time of the COVID-19 outbreak as it did not previously disclose them to the UK’s inquiry on the pandemic.
During the Covid crisis, it was revealed in an inquiry on Thursday that none of the private messages written by Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister, or her health and finance ministers, had been shared despite numerous requests since 2022.
Jamie Dawson, the Scottish representative for the investigation, stated that there were indications that these messages may have been removed, possibly violating the regulations regarding keeping government documents.
At Holyrood, there was a heated disagreement caused by his involvement. Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, questioned First Minister Humza Yousaf on why the government did not reveal any communications.
According to Ross, intentionally withholding them would be a concerning act of secrecy and could potentially be illegal.
Yousaf refuted the claim that there was an effort to conceal information and stated that he had assigned Ruth Charteris KC, the solicitor general for the Scottish government, to conduct an investigation that morning.
According to Yousaf, he and his team are aware of their legal obligations to keep and not destroy certain information. He reassured families that any relevant information in their possession will be shared.
There are clear similarities in this row to the ongoing disagreement between the Scottish government and a designated Holyrood committee formed to look into the investigation of alleged sexual misconduct by former first minister Alex Salmond in 2020. The committee members and Sturgeon’s deputy, John Swinney, had multiple disagreements about the inability to locate and share government documents, which ultimately led to a legal dispute regarding the release of the government’s legal advice.
On Thursday, Dawson stated that approximately 137 messaging groups were utilized during the pandemic. The actions of around 70 Scottish individuals are currently being investigated, including employees at the Public Health Scotland agency.
The investigation faced difficulty in comprehending the government’s policies and practices regarding the usage of messaging apps. This was due to the insufficient and ambiguous responses received when requesting information about the individuals utilizing these apps and their methods.
He stated that the Scottish government unexpectedly announced three weeks ago that it required a formal order, according to section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005, in order to disclose this type of information due to concerns about data privacy.
Dawson stated that the inquiry anticipates receiving the complete disclosure that was promised by the Scottish government. If it turns out that this is not the case, the inquiry will inquire about the reason for the discrepancy.
According to Dawson, the investigation plans to remain unbiased regarding the messages’ content. However, he found it shocking that a significant amount had been deleted, especially when the UK government’s WhatsApp messages were mostly preserved.
According to the speaker, the Scottish government’s response to the pandemic utilized messaging systems, but it seems that very few messages were saved. This is unexpected, especially since the UK government had access to a large volume of these messages.
Aamer Anwar, the lawyer representing the Scottish Covid Bereaved group, who is an official member of the investigation, stated that Dawson’s revelations were “heartbreaking”.
He stated that the families he represents deserve to know the truth. The Scottish families who have lost loved ones due to Covid find it unbelievable that the highest-ranking officials in the Scottish government, including Sturgeon, Swinney, Kate Forbes, and Yousaf, did not save their WhatsApp messages during the two years of the pandemic.