Alister Jack ‘wrong’ to delete all his Covid WhatsApp messages, says Scottish Tory leader

The Scottish Secretary was “wrong” to delete all his WhatsApp messages during the Covid pandemic, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland has said.

Douglas Ross was speaking after Alister Jack confirmed he had erased all of his messages in November 2021 to free up space on his mobile phone.

With the Scottish Conservatives having heavily criticised former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon for deleting her WhatsApps during the pandemic, Mr Ross made clear he thought Mr Jack’s actions were also “wrong”.

Earlier, giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry sitting in Edinburgh, Mr Jack (pictured) had said: “I didn’t delete some of the message – I deleted all of them.

“I deleted WhatsApps from my mother, my wife, my friends – I mean I just deleted all my WhatsApps – because that created the capacity that allowed my phone to carry on.”

Mr Jack said that “at the time, I didn’t think anything of it”, but told the inquiry he does “regret” the deletion.

Mr Ross later said: “Alister Jack was wrong to delete his WhatsApp messages. He has apologised and he regrets it.”

Contrasting the Scottish Secretary with the former first minister, he added: “Nicola Sturgeon has not apologised for doing it. She has said she was right because she was following Government policy.

“That is a massive difference.”

His comments came as he challenged Ms Sturgeon’s successor, Humza Yousaf, during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.

Mr Ross said Ms Sturgeon had “destroyed all of her WhatsApp messages despite knowing a ‘do not destroy order’ was in place”, “despite promising grieving families she would be transparent”, and after having “assured journalists all her messages would be handed to the inquiry”.

He said Ms Sturgeon had “told the press unequivocally, yes, her messages would be provided”.

Mr Yousaf accused Mr Ross of “hypocrisy” as he challenged him on the behaviour of both Mr Jack and former Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson.

Speaking about Mr Johnson, the First Minister said not only did he “not retain his messages, he actually took the inquiry to court and lost”.

Meanwhile he said Mr Jack had deleted messages “because he wanted to free up storage capacity on his phone”.

Speaking about the Scottish Secretary, Mr Yousaf added: “When asked if he considered the need of the public inquiry, here’s what he said. ‘No I didn’t. I was quite keen for my phone to start working again’.

“It is astonishing that Douglas Ross demands investigations and reviews in relation to Nicola Sturgeon for not retaining her WhatsApps. But his boss, his colleague, who deletes his WhatsApps, didn’t even think about the inquiry, that’s perfectly fine.

“There is one word for that. It is hypocrisy. And the people of Scotland can see right through Douglas Ross.”

Separately, the inquiry also released written evidence given by Nicola Sturgeon dated November 16 2023, where she discusses her use of mobile devices.

Answering a series of questions from the inquiry team, she said she used a personal mobile phone and a personal iPad.

She explained she had upgraded her mobile phone in December 2020 and gave the old handset to “a family member whose own phone had broken”.

The new handset from December 2020 is still in her possession, she said.

Ms Sturgeon also said she had received advice from Scottish Government officials that text of WhatsApp messages removed from a device cold only be retrieved for a period of up to 30 days.

The former first minister was asked about emails from government officials in March 2022 which advised against the deletion of material relating to pandemic management.

She said she had not received these and they had not been drawn to the attention of ministers.

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