The Scottish Government has denied that National Clinical Director Jason Leitch deletes messages from his phone on a daily basis.

On Thursday night, The Times claimed that the dentist — who played a key role in Scotland’s response to the virus — was unable to comply with a "do not destroy" notice issued by the UK's Covid inquiry as he had already wiped all of his WhatsApps before it was issued.

In a statement released on Friday evening, the Scottish Government insisted that official guidance on messages had been followed.

They said this included the Scottish Government Records Management Policy, which “makes clear that information and records shall be retained only as long as they are required to support Scottish Government in its business requirements and legal obligations.”

READ MORE: Covid Secrecy row as Jason Leitch deletes WhatsApp messages

The row over Professor Leitch’s messages came as the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s legal team said they believed the “majority” of WhatsApp messages shared among Scottish Government officials during the pandemic “have not been retained”.

The inquiry has already identified 70 key people and 137 different WhatsApp and other messaging groups used during the pandemic. 

A note by Jamie Dawson KC – the lead counsel in the Scotland module of the inquiry – said: “Given the potential significance of any such material, and in order to provide a clearer statement of the position, the Scottish Government has been asked to provide a full update on its position and that of all relevant Scottish Government witnesses as regards to their use of WhatsApps and their current availability for disclosure.

“It is currently understood that although WhatsApps appear to have been used to send messages relating to and surrounding key decisions by some members of Scottish Government, the majority of the messages have not been retained by witnesses.”

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said more than 13,000 documents had already been sent to the UK Covid Inquiry.

She added that the Scottish Government was now working to hand over WhatsApp messages “relating to logistics and day-to-day communication” that had subsequently been requested by the probe.

Ms Robison said: “As the First Minister has made clear, the Scottish Government is wholly committed to co-operating fully with the COVID-19 inquiries.  This includes providing any requested material that we hold.

“The Scottish Government records management policy makes clear what must be recorded in the official record, given that it isn't practical, cost-effective or necessary for any organisation to retain every exchange that everyone working within that organisation creates.

“While it is not the culture within Scottish Government to use WhatsApp for decision-making, our records management policy states clearly that government decisions, however they are made, should be recorded in the official record.

“And drawing from that official record, more than 13,000 documents have been sent to the UK Inquiry from the Scottish Government, in addition to the corporate and personal statements requested.

“The UK Inquiry has subsequently asked for WhatsApp messages relating to logistics and day-to-day communication, which of course we are working to provide."

On Professor Leitch, Ms Robison said: “All ministers and civil servants, including the National Clinical Director (NCD) Jason Leitch, have been co-operating fully with the COVID-19 inquiries since their establishment.”

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Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy said Ms Robison’s statement had raised "more questions surrounding this murky situation."

He added: "If the Deputy First Minister and the SNP Government were committed to cooperating fully with this inquiry, then these messages would be handed over without further delay.

“Humza Yousaf made that commitment in Parliament four months ago, but that evidence has still not been handed over. The public will be wondering what SNP figures have to hide.

“Serious questions remain over why Jason Leitch – as a senior civil servant – was using WhatsApp when he was at the forefront of the response to the pandemic.

"The Scottish Government must be upfront about what guidance was followed and whether Mr Leitch – or any ministers – have potentially breached last year's do-not-destroy order issued by the inquiry in relation to messages."

Earlier in the day Labour had suggested that Humza Yousaf may have broken the ministerial code after telling MSPs in June that “any material that is asked for—WhatsApp messages, emails, Signal messages, Telegram messages or whatever—will absolutely be handed over to the Covid inquiries and handed over to them in full.”

In a letter to the First Minister, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Dame Jackie Baillie said this proved not to have been correct. “It is always essential that politicians uphold the highest standards of honesty and accuracy in the Scottish Parliament – and that is even more important on a matter as serious as the Covid inquiry. Bereaved families deserve answers about what happened during the pandemic and your government owes them total transparency.”

She added that at the least there needed to be “an investigation into whether this constitutes a breach of the Ministerial Code.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have received a letter and a response will be sent in due course.”