Sturgeon under pressure as Covid families ‘considering’ criminal probe

The row emerges as Labour leader Anas Sarwar claimed “lying and misleading of the public” has taken place on “an industrial scale” with the latest WhatsApp evidence scandal.

Scottish Covid Bereaved met with their solicitor Aamer Anwar on Saturday to discuss taking action.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard on Friday from KC Jamie Dawson that Ms Sturgeon had “retained no messages whatsoever” from the time of the pandemic.

Her deputy, John Swinney, used an auto-delete function and national clinical director Jason Leitch described wiping WhatsApp messages as a “pre-bed ritual”, in evidence heard by the inquiry.

In a statement on Saturday, Ms Sturgeon said that while messages were not retained on her own device, she was able to “obtain copies” and these have been submitted.

Read more: Sturgeon WhatsApps ‘all gone’ – as Jason Leitch says deleting was a ‘pre-bed ritual’

A document presented during the hearing on Friday showed the former SNP leader admitted to using WhatsApp to share information and views with colleagues.

Ms Sturgeon insists she conducted the Covid response “through formal processes” rather than through any informal messaging platform such as WhatsApp.

The Inquiries Act sets out it is a criminal offence if someone “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”.

Mr Anwar has said he believes a criminal offence would have been committed if any material was deleted after February 28, 2022 – the date the Scottish Covid Inquiry was established.

Speaking to the Sunday Post, Mr Anwar said: “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.

Read more: Scottish ministers ‘did not trust’ UK Govt during Covid

“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.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has claimed the law could have been broken.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Sunday Show, he said: “There seems to be an industrial scale lying and misleading of the public. And I think that goes beyond a few rotten apples at the top, in terms of ministers.

“It seems that even senior Scottish Government officials were complicit in that misinformation. It is for an inquiry to decide what evidence is relevant, not those that are being investigated, to decide what issues are relevant.

“I think there’s potentially breaches of the law, not just in terms of obstructing a COVID inquiry, but also it seems there’s a deliberate attempt to breach Freedom of Information laws.”

Ms Sturgeon has now been urged to make a personal statement to Holyrood to explain herself to the bereaved families.

Scottish LibDems leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, has written to the former first minister, urging her to set the record straight at Holyrood.

In his letter, the Edinburgh Western MSP said: “You gave assurances in May 2020 that a public inquiry would be held.

“It was accepted as being both inevitable and essential long before the UK Covid Inquiry was announced in May 2021, and long before you made an unambiguous commitment on national television in August 2021 to retain all records including WhatsApps and hand them over to an inquiry.

Read more: Yousaf gives strongest indication yet WhatsApp messages have been lost

“It now appears that, where some messages will be available, that is not as a result of your personally retaining them.

“You will also be aware that the UK Inquiry issued protocol on 29th July 2022 referring to the Inquiries Act 2005, which states that it is an offence to destroy any document that may of interest to an inquiry.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton added that “there are many questions that I believe you are required to address, including whether you have misled the bereaved families, the UK Covid inquiry and Parliament by committing to personally retain and hand over all relevant material”.

He said: “It is only right that you address these questions in a personal statement to the Scottish Parliament and face questions from MSPs in public.

Lives and livelihoods hinged on the decisions that you and your government were taking. By erasing the discussions that underpinned such decisions, however, you and others at the top of your government may have denied families the answers, the understanding and the closure that they have so desperately sought to obtain.

“Those grieving families, those failed, may be forever denied the full story behind the calls you made.”

In a statement on Saturday issued on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms Sturgeon insisted “the inquiry does have messages between me and those I most regularly communicated with through informal means”.

She added: “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.

“Throughout the entire process, I acted in line with Scottish Government policy.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “At this time, we’ve nothing to indicate any police involvement or that this is a policing matter.”

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