Covid Inquiry: Sturgeon quizzed on missing WhatsApps and burner-phone reports

Former Scottish first minister gives evidence to hearings in Edinburgh, taking questions on previous pledges to provide full records of communications and spending data that shows purchase of cheap devices

Image credit: Scottish Government/CC BY 2.0

Appearing before the Covid Inquiry, former Scottish Government first minister has been grilled over previous pledges to hand over WhatsApp messages and reports she may have used temporary mobile devices.

The inquiry, which has been holding evidence hearings in Edinburgh for the past few weeks, quizzed Sturgeon about reports that she purchased so-called “burner phones” during the pandemic. An article in the Daily Express revealed Sturgeon’s expenses show the purchase of an £18 Nokia phone in March 2020, plus £18 in SIM cards.

The former Scottish leader told the inquiry the devices on her authority to divert calls from her constituency office to staff forced to work from home during lockdown.

“I have never to the best of my knowledge seen, held and certainly not used any of these phones,” she added.

Sturgeon also confirmed that she used a personal mobile during her time as first minister, rather than a government-issued device.

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She said: “It was never suggested to me at any time during my period as first minister that it was not appropriate. The reason I used a personal phone was that I didn’t want to have multiple devices. On a government phone, I wouldn’t have been able to do constituency business or party or personal matters and on a constituency one I can do. I wanted to have one device. It wasn’t suggested to me that was inappropriate and I don’t believe it was inappropriate. I think any phone, whether it is personal, parliament, government, is vulnerable to being left on a train or lost somehow.”

Sturgeon also used her evidence session to issue apologised for a pandemic press conference pledge to hand over all Covid-related WhatsApp messages for a public inquiry.

She has previously told a Channel 4 News journalist that all pandemic communications would be disclosed to any future public inquiry, saying “nothing will be off limits” – including “emails, WhatsApps [and] private emails”.

Sturgeon told the inquiry: “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 do otherwise]. This will be a judge-led public inquiry.”

The ex-first minister agreed that she had already manually deleted WhatsApp exchanges when that answer was given.

But the former first minister said she was following guidance given to her in 2007 and all “germane” information had been passed over for official government records.

She said she had been “trying to answer the substance” of the question posed at the press conference, adding: “I apologise if that answer was not as clear.”

Versions of this story originally appeared on PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood

Kirsteen Paterson

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