Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has been caught out after claiming he does not use WhatsApp after it emerged Welsh Government messages from during the pandemic may have been erased.
Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Assembly he himself did not use WhatsApp and would not know how to automatically delete texts.
Shortly after his claim, however, the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies received a screenshot appearing to show the First Minister’s WhatsApp profile, countering his claim he never used the service.
Mr Drakeford has now written a letter to the Senedd’s speaker, Elin Jones, admitting he does have the app downloaded to his official mobile phone.
He said: “I have reviewed my exchange with the leader of the Welsh Conservatives during First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) yesterday (7 November) and I would like to clarify that I have WhatsApp downloaded to my Senedd-issued mobile phone.
“I do not use it regularly to send messages. I would appreciate it if the Record could be amended on this particular point.”
He added that the Welsh Government did not use “informal means of communication to make decisions during the pandemic”.
During yesterday’s FMQs session, Mr Drakeford said some messages sent by people working in Government during the pandemic may have been deleted.
Opposition parties voiced their concerns about transparency, given WhatsApp messages from No. 10 Downing Street have formed a central aspect of the Covid Inquiry’s current investigation.
The row also closely mirrors one in Scotland, where the SNP Government has failed to hand over large swathes of messages.
Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say whether or not she erased key messages from the height of the pandemic, but stated Government guidance instructed informal business messages should be deleted “at least monthly” after any decisions had been officially recorded”.
Scottish Deputy First Minister Shona Robinson refused to say how many messages had been deleted, who deleted them and if any effort had been made to retrieve them.
Last month the group Scottish Covid Bereaved said unless Ms Sturgeon had a “reasonable excuse” for her deleted WhatsApps she should be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 51 weeks.
In a letter to Humza Yousaf, the group’s lawyer said he hoped a Section 21 notice with “criminal penalties” for failing to comply would “focus minds” and “encourage the most thorough process of complying with requests”.
Responding to a journalist in 2021 who asked whether she could guarantee to bereaved families that she would disclose emails and messages, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think you understand that statutory public inquiries you would know that even if I wasn’t prepared to give that assurance – which for the avoidance of doubt I am – then I wouldn’t have the ability [to withhold them].
“This will be a judge-led statutory public inquiry. I think it’s also fair to say… we’re further ahead than any government in the UK in not just committing to a public inquiry but actually getting it into operation.”