Scottish Government expects to meet deadline for messages to UK Covid Inquiry

Scotland’s Wellbeing Economy Secretary has said he “fully expects” the Scottish Government to hand over 14,000 WhatsApp messages to the UK Covid inquiry by Monday.

Neil Gray said the Scottish Government has “nothing to hide” and is co-operating fully with the inquiry.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Shona Robison last week confirmed that the Scottish Government would share more than 14,000 messages with the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, with First Minister Humza Yousaf to hand over unredacted WhatsApp messages by November 6.

The announcement came following a row over the messages was sparked last month when Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the UK inquiry, said “no messages” from within the Scottish Government had yet been provided.

Ms Robison last week confirmed that the Scottish Government had received a legal notice known as a Section 21 order permitting it to hand over the messages, including those from Scottish Government ministers and former ministers.

Mr Gray told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Humza Yousaf the First Minister has confirmed he is going to be handing over all of his WhatsApp messages.

“Today, I fully expect we will be handing over 14,000, we’re not holding back here, we’re fully co-operating with these inquiries, we’ve got nothing to hide.

“We’re fully confident in the information that we will be handing over and it will be up to the inquiry, both inquiries, to disseminate the information in the way they see fit.”

He added: “The First Minister gave a commitment last week that we would meet the deadline by today and I fully expect that to happen.

“This has been a complex situation because initially the inquiry were looking for information directly to do with decision-making and obviously our systems are… normally we take our decisions through the Scottish government information system and it’s when we received information that they were looking for further messages that we asked for the section 21 order which we received last week to ensure that we can share now over 14,000 mainly WhatsApp messages to add on to the 19,000 documents that the Scottish government has already shared with the inquiries.

“We’re looking to make sure that we are fully complying with inquiries because understandably there are families here who have lost loved ones who want to know what has happened in terms of the decisions that were taken, why those decisions were taken, and we want to make sure we’re giving people those answers.”

Speaking to journalists on Monday, the First Minister backed up his minister’s claim, adding that he would also comply with the personal deadline to provide a statement to the inquiry as well as his unredacted messages.

He would not be drawn, however, on reports over the weekend that messages of his had been found on an old phone, saying: “I’m not going to talk you through (that).

“Of course it is for the inquiry to ask any relevant questions they want, I think more relevant to the inquiry is: do you have messages and can you hand them over?

“The answer is yes, I have messages, and yes I’ll be handing them over in an unredacted form, and I’m not going to give a running commentary on a live public inquiry on either my evidence nor indeed the evidence of others.”

Press reports have suggested that former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, as well as national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch and chief medical officer Dr Sir Gregor Smith deleted their messages.

Ms Sturgeon has said she has “nothing to hide” and is committed to full transparency to the inquiry.

Mr Gray was asked whether he now has a clear picture of who deleted messages and who did not.

He replied: “It’s difficult because under the terms of public inquiries you cannot know who has been asked for what information if the inquiry has gone to them directly that would be a contravention of the inquiries act.”

Mr Gray said he is confident that the deadline will be met and that the information that has been requested by the inquiries will be handed over.