THE “hypocrisy” of Labour figures who attacked the Scottish Government over the deletion of pandemic WhatsApps has been laid bare by the Covid Inquiry hearings in Wales, an SNP MP has said.

Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie, and Angela Rayner are among the Labour leaders to have condemned Scottish ministers and officials for having deleted WhatsApps from during the pandemic, calling it “insulting” and “appalling”.

However, the UK Covid Inquiry’s sessions in Cardiff have heard that Labour ministers there did exactly the same thing.

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Nia Gowman, who represents the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, said: “The limited messages that have been disclosed … show Welsh Government senior special advisers suspiciously and systematically deleting communications.

“They show special advisers reminding themselves and others that they had agreed to ‘clear out WhatsApp chats once a week’.

“They show the most senior special adviser for the first minister for Wales and Vaughan Gething, the minister for health, turning on disappearing messages.”

SNP MP Philippa Whitford said she was not minded to criticise the Welsh Labour government for having deleted the informal messages as it is standard policy across parliaments, but called out the “hypocrisy of those who have been laying into the Scottish Government”.

She told The National: “The advice we are still being given by the digital service at Westminster is that you should set your WhatsApp to automatically delete, that it's not secure to have things on your phone.

“Therefore, that's what we do. That’s the norm. It isn't considered hiding something. It's considered normal, good practice.”

She went on: “But the hypocrisy of those who have been attacking Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government for months now on this is laid bare.

“All the WhatsApps of the Cabinet at Westminster were deleted, and we see that the Labour ones in Wales were deleted as well, yet all of them had an absolute pile-on on top of Nicola Sturgeon.”

Over the past few months, Labour figures have been ferociously critical of Scottish ministers for deleting WhatsApp messages.

Among other incidents:

  • Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said in October 2023 that the deletion of messages amounted to a “deliberate act of sabotage”, dismissing the idea it may have been an oversight. He said: “We are not talking about children, we are talking about serious officials and ministers in government. It will not be an oversight if there is the deletion of messages. They knew this inquiry was coming, they knew there would be interest in this information, and if that information no longer exists, you can’t say anything other than it is a deliberate act of sabotage.”
  • In November 2023, in a column for the Daily Record, Sarwar wrote: “The grotesque messages we've seen from the UK Government show us how important this transparency is. Their WhatsApps have revealed chaos and infighting at the heart of government and a callous disregard for people's lives. It is horrifying reading but it provides essential insights. Both [the UK and Scottish] governments are trying to cover up their mistakes but the public deserve answers. This is not about politicians — this is about the people who suffered during the pandemic.”
  • Scottish Labour depute leader Jackie Baillie, in a column for the Scotsman in November 2023, hit out at the deletion of WhatsApps, saying that the “most important thing for me is that withholding of evidence like this is disrespectful and insulting to bereaved families who lost loved ones to Covid”. She argued that WhatsApps and other informal messaging would “provide valuable context to what was going on even if, as Nicola Sturgeon attempted to claim, they were not part of formal decision making”.
  • Jackie Baillie said in February 2024 that “the mass deletion of WhatsApp messages throughout the pandemic amounts to a complete betrayal of the public”.
  • Angela Rayner, also speaking in February 2024, said that the deletion of WhatsApps was “appalling”. She went on: “You deleted those messages, you’re not giving a full picture. And of course we're going to then think cynically: ‘Why did you delete them? Did you not want to give people a full, transparent view of what happened over that period?’ I think it was wholly irresponsible.”

Whitford said: “I think it [the criticism] was very disingenuous and hypocritical – and frankly stirring it.

“People like Angela Rayner and others were trying to make out that this was part of some huge conspiracy cover-up. It was just literally that this was not a method that was used for formal decision making. It was about keeping in touch, and that was something that all of us were struggling with.”

The Welsh Government has argued, as the Scottish one did, that WhatsApps and other informal messaging services were not used for formal decision making.

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Labour was also criticised by Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies, who said the party’s hypocrisy was “stunning”.

He said: “Angela Rayner called Nicola Sturgeon ‘appalling’ for deliberately deleting Covid WhatsApps, but now we know Labour ministers in Wales were doing exactly the same thing.

“People who lost loved ones during the pandemic deserve better than this.”

The Tories faced similar charges of hypocrisy after Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, claimed that Scottish ministers had taken “secrecy and cover-up to a new low” by deleting their WhatsApp messages – only for Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to admit to having done the same thing.

Labour have been approached for comment.