SCOTTISH Government staff were urged to delete WhatsApp messages at the end of every day during the pandemic, the UK Covid Inquiry has heard.

Professor Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer (CMO), said the deletions were only meant for conversations which were “no longer useful” – with “pertinent” information transferred to official channels.

Smith was challenged after WhatsApps revealed to the inquiry showed him joking about deleting messages in response to a quip about a colleague having a personal cannabis supply.

The inquiry was shown an image of the chief medical officers’ weekly call group chat from July 14, 2021, where deputy CMO Graham Ellis made the comment and then asked: “Hope this isn’t FOI-able?”

The reference was to whether the public could see the messages through the use of Freedom of Information legislation.

Smith responded: “Delete at the end of every day…”

Ellis wrote back with a sideways crying laughing emoji and a thumbs up emoji.

The National:

Appearing at the UK Covid Inquiry in Edinburgh on Monday, Smith explained: “Scottish Government advice on this was not to retain information longer than was necessary.

“It was to make sure that any information which was pertinent information – particularly discussions which ended up in a decision – was captured within the corporate systems.

“So my practice was to make sure that any information which was important in that way was then captured in email form on the system [and] was formerly recorded so that it was an auditable trail.”

He added: “I think that you will see evidence of my approach to this within the conversations that I exhort other members of those conversations to do the same.

“But my practice was that when other information was no longer useful it shouldn’t be retained. If not at the end of every day then certainly on a frequent basis.”

The National: CMO Gregor Smith gives evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry

Smith (above) further told the inquiry that official government advice was that “official business shouldn't be done within these mediums [such as WhatsApp] and there should be regular deletion, partly for security purposes and that it shouldn't be seen as a secure medium”.

The news comes after Scotland’s information commissioner David Hamilton said he is “concerned” by recent revelations at the UK Covid Inquiry, saying there may be implications for freedom of information.

The inquiry was told last week that all of Nicola Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages during the pandemic had been deleted. However, Sturgeon said that many of them had been recovered from the other side and handed over.

She also stressed that decisions on the pandemic were recorded formally in line with Scottish Government policy.

READ MORE: Carol Vorderman clarifies 'misleading' tweet about Nicola Sturgeon WhatsApps

Sturgeon said she will answer questions “directly and openly” when she appears at the inquiry later this month.

The inquiry also heard a message from national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch suggesting he deleted messages every day as a “pre-bed ritual”.

David Hamilton, whose remit is to enforce freedom of information law, was asked about the issue on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Monday.

He said: “What we need to look at is the principles of the freedom of information regime, and that’s my locus in this, not the particular aspects of the inquiry.

“Some of the threads which came out there are a bit concerning frankly.”