Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she has “nothing to hide” after repeatedly refusing to say whether she deleted WhatsApp messages related to the Covid pandemic. 

The former First Minister was asked multiple times whether she destroyed the electronic messages following a statement by deputy First Minister Shona Robison at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said she was “committed to full transparency” but  refused to say whether she deleted them when pressed for a Yes or No answer by the media.

She said her submission to the UK Covid inquiry was confidential until it chose what if anything to make public.

She said she would tell it: “How I worked during the Covid pandemic, what I hold, what I don’t hold, and the reasons for that.”

Asked what she was trying to hide, she said: “I have nothing to hide.”

The Scottish Tories called it "desperate stone-walling".

It followed the Sunday Mail reporting at the weekend that key Covid-related messages sent by Ms Sturgeon were manually deleted from her phone.

The paper said documents given to the UK Covid Inquiry showed she was among a number of senior Scottish Gvernment figures who had claimed the data no longer exists.

Deputy FM Shona Robison today told MSPs that the Scottish Government would hand over 19,000 documents and some 14,000 WhatsApp messages to the UK Covid Inquiry.

She was unable to say if messages had been deleted as she did not know the content of the material being given to the Inquiry.

READ MORE: SNP ministers to submit WhatsApps but cannot say if messages have been deleted

First Minister Humza Yousaf, who was health secretary in the latter stages of the pandemic, has said he retained his WhatsApp messages and was able to submit them to the Inquiry.

But Ms Sturgeon refused to say if she could say the same, or abide by a previous commitment to hand over WhatsApp and other messages.

Asked if she had deleted some or all of her Covid WhatsApps and texts, Ms Sturgeon said: “Firstly, let me say I amn cooperting fully and constructively with the Inquiry.

“I am committed to full transparency.

“I have just submitted my third written statement to the UK Inquiry. 

“That runs to some 200 pages. I have been asked further questions by the inquiry which I’m in the process of answering right now.

“As the deputy First Minister has just said in the chamber,  the requested and the responses at this stage are confidential until the inquiry says otherwise, so I can’t and will not go into the detail of those reponses right now.”

Asked whether she had deleted WhatsApp messages, she said: “Any messages I had I handled and dealt with in line wth the policy set out by the deputy First Minister.”

Asked whether that meant she had deleted some messages, she said: “Can you let me finish?”

She went on: “I will be setting out - I have already set out and wil continue to set out to the inquiry - how I operated, how I worked during the Covid pandemic, what I hold, what I don’t hold, and the reasons for that."

She said the volume of WhatsApp messages released by the UK Government to the Inquiry meant there was an assumption her government worked in the same way, but it was not the case.

"I did not manage the Covid response by WhatsApp.

"For example, I was not a member of any WhatsApp groups.

"I managed the Covid response from my office in St. Andrew's House from early morning to late at night, face to face meetings with those that were there, Zoom calls, Teams calls.

"And of course, I stood up every day. And I set it to the public, the basis of the decisions and why you're taking certain decisions.

"I will set out in full to the inquiry, how I operated it, what I hold, what I don't hold and the reasons for that. But I am satisfied I handled information in line with the policies that you've heard."

Put to her that she was open to the charge of cover-up, she said: “Look, I gave my all to the management of the pandemic. 

“Transparency for the families affected, by everybody affected by the pandemic, matters really a lot to me. 

“I did my best every day. As you heard me say many times over the course of the pandemic, I did not get everything right, but I did my best.

“I want the process of these inquiries to get to the heart of what happened, the things that governments got right, the things that governments and leaders like me didn't get right.” 

She said she expected to give evidence to the Inquiry again in the New Year, when she would “answer all questions that are put to me, transparency matters to me in this”.

READ MORE: Row over MSP's Holyrood tribute to SNP colleague who lied in court

Asked why she was refusing to say, unlike Humza Yousaf, whether she had deleted messages, Ms Sturgeon denied behaving to a different standard.

Asked why she didn’t tell people Yes or No, she said: “Because I am currently in the process of providing information to an Inquiry.

“The requests that the inquiry is making right now and the responses being provided - until the inquiry decides otherwise are confidential. I'd be breaching my obligation to the inquiry.”

Asked yet again to say if her WhatsApp messages still existed, she said: “I wil be very clear to the Inquiry about what I hold, what I don’t hold and why that is the case.”

She repeated that she was not a member of any WhatsApp group, did not manage the Covid response by WhatsApp, and said decisions were taken by Cabinet, not her on WhatsApp.

Reminded she promised the public a Scottish inquiry with access to all information, including WhatsApps, and asked if she still stood by that promise, Ms Sturgeon ducked the question.

She said: “The inquiry will have full transparency for me at every stage.

“It has had it so far. And I will set out clearly to the inquiry answers to all their questions.”

Asked what she had to hide, Ms Sturgeon said: “I have nothing to hide. 

“I am committed to full transparency to this inquiry and to the Scottish inquiry when it takes place. 

“And I am committed to that in the interest of everybody across this country who was affected by Covid. 

“I, as I said before, and I've said many times every day for a very extended period of time, I with my colleagues did my best to keep people as safe as as possible and it's something that matters a lot to me that those who have questions get answers to those questions.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “This hastily-arranged Nicola Sturgeon press conference followed a familiar pattern to all those she’s held since leaving office: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong but I’m not answering your questions’.

“It was ridiculous for her to claim she’s committed to transparency while refusing, repeatedly, to confirm whether or not she deleted WhatsApp messages.

“This exercise in desperate stone-walling served no purpose other than further tarnishing Nicola Sturgeon’s diminishing reputation.”