Nicola Sturgeon faces criminal investigation over deleted WhatsApp messages

The disclosure they had been deleted caused uproar on Friday, at the end of the first week of the UK public inquiry sitting in Edinburgh to take evidence about the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic.

Chaired by Lady Hallett, it is scheduled to hear testimony this week from Prof Leitch, Liz Lloyd, Ms Sturgeon’s former chief of staff, and First Minister Humza Yousaf. Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney will give evidence next week.

Mr Anwar said it was now a “matter of public record” that Ms Sturgeon, Mr Swinney and Prof Leitch had “wilfully” deleted their messages.

He said: “The deletion of WhatsApps can only be seen as a cynical, premeditated decision and of course Ms Sturgeon and others must answer as to their motivation for deleting messages.”

He added: “The trust that my clients had in the Scottish Government being transparent and accountable is left shattered. We are now instructed to prepare a criminal complaint to Police Scotland and to ask the ­Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate any potential breaches of the law.”

Relatives’ disquiet

Jackie Marlow, George Hillhouse and Tracy MacMillan of the Almond Court group of relatives told the Scottish Mail on Sunday: “We are disgusted officials deleted messages during the pandemic, indicative of them having something to hide.

“Knowing what we know now, that clearing this correspondence when they knew there was to be an inquiry may be criminal, we are considering reporting this to the police.”

In a lengthy statement published on social media on Saturday, Ms Sturgeon admitted that her messages had “not been retained on my own device.”

She said she had been able to “obtain copies” of some “between me and those I most regularly communicated with through informal means”. The inquiry has received messages from Ms Sturgeon extracted from other people’s mobile devices.

The former first minister also said she conducted her Covid response “through formal processes”, was not a member of a WhatsApp group and only used informal messaging systems to communicate with a “limited” number of people.

However, evidence shown to the inquiry on Friday showed she used WhatsApp for discussions with Ms Lloyd and Mr Yousaf, who was health secretary before he became first minister.

A schedule of her communication methods also said she would “exchange information or views with colleagues by text or WhatsApp”.

However, it said that “messages were not retained, they were deleted in routine tidying up of inboxes or changing of phones.” It said she was “unable to retrieve messages” and had “nothing to return”.

Ms Sturgeon argued that she acted in line with “Scottish Government policy”, which gave ministers discretion to decide what should be kept and what deleted.

A spokeswoman for Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney referred to the statements they have previously issued and said they would not comment further.

His spokesman said on Friday: “Mr Swinney is committed to full transparency. He has engaged fully with the Covid inquiry and will continue to do so. All messages were handled in line with Scottish Government policies.”

Police Scotland said it was not aware of any complaints having been made.

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