ALISTER Jack’s deleted WhatsApps included messages to the Prime Minister about matters taking place in Scotland and to members of the Cabinet about “specific policy" issues, it can be revealed.

The Scottish Secretary told the UK Covid Inquiry last week that he “did not do government by WhatsApp” after admitting he had deleted every single message from the app from his phone during the pandemic.

However, his written statement, which has been published by the inquiry, states that his WhatsApp messages were sent to many people within government, including Cabinet colleagues, junior ministers and former prime minister Boris Johnson.

The Tory MP said WhatsApp messages were also exchanged with his officials during the pandemic, but stated they were “not used for the purpose of discussing information or advice” relating to Covid-19.

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The written evidence also says that he was a member of a number of WhatsApp groups, but these did “not relate” to the pandemic and "to the best of his recollection" discussions did not relate to decisions about the response to Covid-19 in Scotland.

However, he also stated the deleted messages included one group which related to an exemption to Covid regulations being given to game shooting parties.

The National:

Appearing at the UK Covid Inquiry last week, Sturgeon (above) came under intense scrutiny over the deletion of her WhatsApp messages, which she said was carried out in line with official advice, with “salient” points all recorded on the corporate record.

She also said she exchanged WhatsApps with no more than a “handful” of people, and was not a member of any groups.

Following her evidence, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused her of hampering the Covid-19 Inquiry as there were messages which “we don’t know what was contained within them, as they were destroyed”.

The following day, Jack told the inquiry he had deleted every single one of his messages in November 2021 to free up space on his phone.

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In his written statement, he said to the “best of his knowledge” he did send some direct WhatsApp messages to his ministerial colleagues and would exchange messages with his junior ministers in the Scotland Office about the “business of the department”.

He stated he also recalled sending messages to Cabinet colleagues about “specific policy matters” and added: “I also sent some messages to the former prime minister. As far as I can recall, the purpose of these messages would have been to inform him of matters that were taking place in Scotland.”

He went on to say WhatsApp messages were also exchanged with officials during the pandemic but added: “These were not used for the purpose of discussing information or advice relating to Covid-19 in Scotland or to record views and/or make decisions about the response to Covid-19 in Scotland.

“Where I wished to discuss any such matters, I would do so with my advisers either directly or through more formal meetings by telephone or video conference.”

At the inquiry hearing last week, he was asked by Jamie Dawson KC, the inquiry’s Scottish counsel, whether he had considered if there had been any informal messages relating to his role in the management of the pandemic before deleting his messages.

He responded: “Well, I know – because I didn't do government by WhatsApp and decision-making by WhatsApp, I knew that that wasn't a concern.”

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However, Jack did also state in his written evidence he was a member of a “Shoot Rules” WhatsApp group, which related to game shooting parties being exempted from Covid regulations restricting more than six people gathering outdoors.

Dawson pointed out that this group did relate to the pandemic management and it had been deleted by Jack.

Asked if he could therefore be sure that other deleted messages did not contain any information “salient to the way in which you conducted government business during the course of the pandemic”, Jack simply responded “Yes”.

SNP MP John Nicolson said: “Nicola Sturgeon has been subjected for weeks to a trial by innuendo over her deleted WhatsApp messages.

“The Scottish Tories and their press supporters have been especially vociferous. She has made it clear that she did not conduct Government business by text or message.

“But we have discovered via the Covid Inquiry that the Scotland Secretary Alister Jack not only deleted all of his messages but confesses that he did conduct UK Government business by WhatsApp.”

He added: “Not only is his behaviour improper but we now know that his party’s attacks on Ms Sturgeon are hypocritical in the extreme."

A spokesperson for Jack said: "The Secretary of State was very clear in both his written and oral evidence that he did not use WhatsApp to determine Government policy."