Nicola Sturgeon should face jail over WhatsApp deletions, say bereaved families

Nicola Sturgeon on Covid inquiry in 2021

The group Scottish Covid Bereaved has said unless Nicola Sturgeon has a “reasonable excuse” for deleted her WhatsApps from her time in Government during the pandemic, she should be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 51 weeks.

In a letter to Humza Yousaf, the group’s lawyer said he hoped a Section 21 notice with “criminal penalties” for failing to comply would “focus minds” and “encourage the most thorough process of complying with requests”.

However he said the group do not “fancy their chances” as the Scottish Government “has had an army of lawyers”.

It is understood that Ms Sturgeon’s messages from the time of the pandemic were manually deleted from her phone.

The revelation over the weekend caused outrage, compounded when video footage emerged showing Ms Sturgeon at a Covid press conference give an unequivocal promise that her messages would be handed over to any future public inquiry.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf on the spot over ‘deleted Covid messages’

A journalist in 2021 asked: “Can you guarantee to the bereaved families that you will disclose emails, WhatsApps, private emails if you’ve been using them, whatever, that nothing will be off limits in this inquiry?”

The then-First Minister replied: “I think you understand that statutory public inquiries you would know that even if I wasn’t prepared to give that assurance – which for the avoidance of doubt I am – then I wouldn’t have the ability [to withhold them].

“This will be a judge-led statutory public inquiry. I think it’s also fair to say… we’re further ahead than any government in the UK in not just committing to a public inquiry but actually getting it into operation.

“People will judge the public inquiry as it progresses… but as the leader of a government over these past 18 months – and I mean this really really strongly – I desperately want every appropriate lesson from what we’ve gone through to be learned so any future government, hopefully not for decades to come, has the benefit of that learning.”

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Humza Yousaf and former Deputy First Minister John Swinney are also among those who had their messages wiped.

Jeane Freeman, who succeeded Mr Yousaf as health secretary in Ms Sturgeon’s Government, is reportedly the only person to have provided “some” messages.

Last week the UK Covid inquiry heard that “very few messages appear to have been retained” from key ministers in Scotland, unlike UK Government ministers who handed over similar material “in high volumes”.

Jamie Dawson KC, lead counsel for the inquiry’s Scotland module, said they had been provided with “no WhatsApp or other informal messaging material” “subject to one exception”.

Unfortunately for Ms Sturgeon, senior figures said in their witness statements that apps like WhatsApp were used during the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman refused to confirm or deny that WhatsApp messages were previously destroyed.

Scottish MP Angus MacNeil, who quit the SNP this summer, has demanded to know “who did the manual deletion?”

The Covid Inquriy resumes in London this morning, with some of Mr Johnson’s closest advisors – including Dominic Cummings – set to face questions this week.

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