JASON Leitch has insisted a claim he deleted WhatsApp messages during the pandemic as a “pre-bed ritual” was a “flippant exaggeration”.

Scotland’s national clinical director told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry he did not delete his WhatsApp messages daily but did so once he felt “work had been managed and dealt with” on a particular day.

He insisted throughout the inquiry that he followed Scottish Government guidance, explaining that he understood informal messages were to be deleted once “salient” information had been retained and put into the corporate record.

Last week, messages shown to the inquiry showed Leitch discussing deleting messages with colleagues in May 2021.

READ MORE: Labour campaign bible shows 'indifference to Scottish voters'

Ken Thomson, the Scottish Government’s director general of strategy and external affairs, posted to a group chat: “I feel moved at this point to remind you that this channel is FOI-recoverable”.

He accompanied the message with an emoji of a face with a mouth zipped shut.

After another person in the channel said to “clear the chat”, Leitch replied: “WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual.”

Questioned about the “pre-bed ritual” message on Tuesday by Jamie Dawson KC, he said: “It’s a slightly flippant exaggeration.

“I didn’t daily delete my WhatsApp. My position is – as I have just described to you – that I tried to do today’s work today and if I could assure myself that work had been managed and dealt with, then I would delete the informal messaging that had led to that moment.

“But this was a flippant exaggeration in an informal messaging group and it wasn’t done every day before I went to bed.”

Asked if the exchange suggested the group were “keen” to delete messages that could be recoverable through Freedom of Information requests, he added: “That isn’t my position.”

Leitch maintained he deleted WhatsApp messages in line with the Scottish Government’s policy on the use and retention of informal messaging.

He said: “As you’ve heard, the record retention policy was that you could use informal messaging systems for Scottish Government business.

The National:

“If you did, you should ensure that any advice or any decisions or anything that should be in the corporate record was then placed in that corporate record by email, briefing, etc, and then you should delete the informal messaging, and that’s the guidance I followed.”

The inquiry was also shown a WhatsApp exchange between Leitch and now First Minister Humza Yousaf where Leitch told him “literally no-one” wears a mask under official guidance. 

On November 19, 2021, Yousaf said: “I know sitting at the table, I don’t need my mask. If I’m standing talking to folk, need my mask on? [sic]”

Leitch responded: “Officially yes. But literally no-one does. Have a drink in your hands at ALL times. Then you’re exempt. So if someone comes over and you stand, lift your drink.

“That’s fun, you’ll go down a treat. Where is it???

“I’m at the Royal College doing the after dinner speech…and I have to be funny!!!!."

Yousaf said: “That’s what I’ve been doing at other events I’m at…!”

He denied advising the current First Minister of a “work around” to mask rules. 

Elsewhere at the inquiry, Leitch said he “made some mis-steps” regarding one speech he gave regarding school closures and does not know if he would do it the same way again.

He said: “In lockdown, when you have an infectious disease, you don’t understand the only thing in the tool box is to take infected individuals and separate them from the rest of society unfortunately.

“In hindsight, with the knowledge we have now about how this disease affects different age groups, I think there might be further reflection in future about closure of schools as quickly and quite as long as we did."

Leitch also spoke about the resignation of Catherine Calderwood as chief medical officer in early April 2020 after she travelled to a holiday  home in Fife, breaking guidance at the time.

He said it “had an influence” on the team.

READ MORE: Tory peer David Frost appointed to key climate change committee

He told Dawson: “We lost our senior clinical adviser for government, there’s not a good time for you to lose a CMO.

“We also lost a friend and colleague.”

Leitch added that the Scottish Government was not as “transparent” as it could have been and at one stage told former finance secretary Kate Forbes that daily press briefings were “not very well organised”.

He said: "There is some truth in the fact that we didn’t always know which week which clinical advisers were going to do and we sometimes switch them around in short notice, partly our fault, partly the fault of the communications team who are organising."

Leitch - who regarded himself to be the principal clinical communicator during the pandemic - was also questioned about how much direct advice he gave to the Scottish Government on Covid rules and guidance.

He insisted that whenever he did offer advice it was part of a wider group of clinical advisers, adding it would “not be fair” to suggest that he distanced himself from responsibility in giving advice. 

He said: “I don’t want to give the impression I was giving independent solo advice.”

Dawson asked: “It looks like you are trying to distance yourself from responsibility in giving advice, would that be fair?”

Leitch said: “No, that would not be fair at all.”