Solicitors representing bereaved families in the Scottish and UK Covid-19 inquiries have demanded clarity on whether former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages were relevant.
Counsel acting on behalf of Scottish ministers said Ms Sturgeon did not have any relevant informal correspondence – which could include private messages, emails or diaries – that were relevant to the handling of the pandemic.
Aamer Anwar, lead solicitor for the Scottish Covid Bereaved group, said it should be a matter for inquiry officials to determine what information is considered relevant.
The group has made further legal submissions to the UK Covid Inquiry calling for all unredacted WhatsApp messages and other relevant materials to be provided.
In a new statement, he said a request “should be made of Scottish ministers to provide to the inquiry any communications held by informal means in order that the primary relevance test can be carried out by this inquiry”.
Mr Anwar said: “The Government is and should be answerable to the people, this applies to both the Scottish Government as well as the UK Government.
“We were advised by the Scottish ministers’ counsel that Nicola Sturgeon has advised them she does not have such informal messages – i.e. WhatsApp messages.
“Today we have sought full clarity from the UK and Scottish Inquiry as to what has happened to Ms Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages, and why they are not being disclosed in their entirety.
“Ms Sturgeon and other Scottish ministers should be in no different of a position to that of Mr Johnston, Rishi Sunak or Matt Hancock, the job of establishing the relevance is a matter for this inquiry.
“We have said before and say it again, no individual, no matter how powerful, can be allowed to interfere with the pursuit of truth, justice and accountability in this inquiry. Those who lost their lives to Covid-19 deserve nothing less.”
Ms Sturgeon will give evidence to the Scottish inquiry at a later date, alongside former deputy first minister John Swinney, health secretary Jeane Freeman and Scotland’s former chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood.
It comes as a transparency row erupts between the UK inquiry and the Westminster government after WhatsApp submissions from senior aides had been redacted.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was “co-operating fully with the Scottish and UK Covid public inquiries”.
“Where requested, we have provided material held. We will continue to do so wherever possible, to provide the inquiry with any documentation or communications, including messages,” the spokesman said.
“Extensive work has taken place to record key Covid-related decisions and to ensure that information supporting and evidencing these decisions is shared with the inquiries. It is a matter for the independent inquiry chairs to make decisions about how they consider and, where appropriate, publish such material.
“We have established records management processes for recording decisions made by ministers and officials which form part of the Scottish Government corporate record.”