Scotland’s national Covid adviser has denied that he deleted WhatsApp messages nightly during the pandemic, blasting the claims as a “flippant exaggeration”.
Jason Leitch is giving evidence to the UK Covid inquiry, which is currently sitting in Edinburgh.
He told the inquiry that he deleted messages in line with the Scottish Government’s guidance on message retention.
However, he denied that it was a “pre-bed ritual”, as he had previously claimed to his colleagues on WhatsApp.
Jason Leitch denied that deleting Covid messages was a ‘pre-bed ritual’
Leitch said that to his understanding, informal messages were to be deleted once “salient information” had been put on record.
Last week, the inquiry was shown transcripts of group chats from government officials in May 2021.
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” and then sent an emoji with its mouth zipped shut.
Leitch responded: “WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual.”
The inquiry also heard that Leitch advised current First Minister Hamza Yousaf, who was at the time health secretary, on how to become exempt from wearing a mask
Defending his comment today in front of the inquiry, Leitch said: “It’s an 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 that work had been managed and dealt with, then I deleted 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.”
The inquiry also heard that Leitch advised current First Minister Hamza Yousaf, who was at the time health secretary, on how to become exempt from wearing a mask.
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]”
Humza Yousaf and Leitch’s messages were shared as part of the inquiry
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…!”
Counsel to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC asked if the health secretary could not did understand the guidelines, “what chance did anybody else have?”
Leitch said: “I understood the rules and I understood what we were trying to do, but the reality of life and the environment in which we were trying to do these things perhaps suggest this guidance was nuanced rather than entirely right.”