Lorna Slater has insisted she does not use WhatsApp for government business amid reports that central figures in Scotland’s Covid response, including Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, have deleted messages that can no longer be handed over to a key inquiry.

The row comes after Scottish clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, deleted WhatsApp messages that the UK Covid inquiry can now not access as key evidence.

That story broke just hours after Mr Yousaf insisted that messages had not been destroyed and will be handed over to both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

Reports also suggest that Ms Sturgeon, who was first minister during the pandemic, has also deleted WhatsApp messages.

Read more: Covid Secrecy row as Jason Leitch deletes WhatsApp messages

According to the Sunday Mail, documents handed over to the UK Covid Inquiry show Ms Sturgeon and other senior government figures including Mr Yousaf, claim the data no longer exists and the WhatsApp messages were deleted.

Mr Yousaf became Scotland's health secretary during the pandemic in May 2021.

The reports suggest that only former health secretary Jeane Freeman has given messages to the inquiry, but they are not complete.

Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the UK inquiry, said last week that there was evidence that “informal communications," including WhatsApp messages, were being used by "key decision makers" in Edinburgh to "discuss advice received in relation to the pandemic and to discuss the nature of the decisions which the Scottish Government might have to take.”

Despite this, he added, "the Scottish Government has provided the inquiry with no WhatsApp or other informal messaging material, either in its own possession or in the possession of " officials and ministers. 

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “Nicola will continue to provide all information requested by the inquiry that she holds and will continue to co-operate fully with both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

“She has recently submitted her third written statement to the UK inquiry, running to around 200 pages, and expects to give oral evidence again next year when she will answer all questions put to her.”

Scottish Green minister Lorna Slater was asked about the use of WhatsApp and deletion of messages during her appearance on the BBC’s Sunday Show.

She stressed that “the work of the inquiry is so important”, adding that “the Scottish Government is absolutely committed to supporting the inquiry and being transparent throughout”.

Ms Slater who became a government minister in August 2021, insisted that “I do not use WhatsApp for government business”, adding that “government work is only done on government devices”.

Read more: Scottish Government fail to hand over any messages to UK Covid inquiry

She said: “All government correspondence goes through official channels.

“We have very secure government devices where all that work is done and therefore it can be monitored and can be shared out under FOI and other transparency procedures as is needed.”

She also claimed that “I don’t have a government phone”, adding that “my phone is for my personal use”.

Asked if ministers have been told to delete WhatsApp messages, Ms Slater said: “There has been no advice on that because it is not used for government business.”

Scottish Conservative chairman, Craig Hoy, said: “Lorna Slater’s claim that she doesn’t have a government mobile phone doesn’t offer any reassurance that she’s complying with government rules – if anything, it makes it less clear how her dealings can be accountable.

“Is she claiming that she never uses her own phone for government business at all, or that all her ministerial communications are exclusively by email via a laptop or by an office landline?

"Neither seems very likely, but she must now clarify her position, especially in the wake of the allegations about deleted messages and a culture of SNP-Green government secrecy.” 

He added: “The revelation that Nicola Sturgeon, other SNP ministers and senior civil servants deliberately deleted messages during this crisis will strike people as disgraceful and could also be illegal.

“The SNP’s culture of secrecy and unaccountability has been utterly corrosive and it is wholly unacceptable that the public inquiry should be obstructed by the Scottish Government’s failure to provide answers. Nicola Sturgeon stated as early as May 2020 that there would be full disclosure and yet key messages have been routinely and repeatedly deleted, possibly after “‘do not destroy’ orders were issued.

“The public are bound to wonder what the SNP had to hide and will feel that grieving families have been treated with contempt.”

Read more: Covid inquiry: Labour accuse First Minister of misleading parliament

Scottish Labour has written to the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary following explosive revelations about senior SNP politicians deleting WhatsApps during the Covid pandemic.

Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie said “These bombshell revelations call into question what the SNP government is trying to hide.

“Humza Yousaf said his government would co-operate fully with the Covid inquiries – but this promise has been left in tatters.

“If the top brass of the SNP has been systematically destroying evidence it is a gross betrayal of bereaved families fighting for justice and an insult to all the Scots who made sacrifices during the pandemic.

“The same old SNP culture of secrecy and cover-up isn’t good enough – we need total transparency throughout these inquiries so we can get the answers Scotland deserves.

“The Scottish Government must come clean about exactly what happened here, what information has been lost and whether their data retention policy has been breached.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said that, as Mr Yousaf has made clear, the Scottish Government is “wholly committed to co-operating fully with the Covid-19 inquiries" and that "this includes providing any requested material that we hold”.

The spokesman added: “More than 13,000 documents from the official record have been sent to the UK inquiry from the Scottish Government, in addition to the corporate and personal statements requested. Providing the formal decision-making record has been our priority.

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

“Given the interest in this specific request from the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, subject to approval from the Parliamentary Bureau, the Deputy First Minister will seek to make a statement to parliament on the issue early next week.”