Nicola Sturgeon's right-hand woman told the UK Covid Inquiry she would never have "intentionally" wiped communications that would be covered by Freedom of Information laws.

Liz Lloyd also said she has “no recollection” of the Scottish Government’s policy about deleting informal messages after making decisions.

The probe into the government’s handling of the pandemic has been dominated by the issue of missing WhatsApp messages.

The inquiry has already heard that Ms Sturgeon appeared to have “retained no messages whatsoever” from the pandemic.

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Meanwhile, transcripts of conversations have emerged which show Scotland's chief medical officer, Professor Sir Gregor Smith telling colleagues to delete WhatsApp messages "every day" during the pandemic.

Another transcript of a group chat shown to the inquiry had Ken Thomson, the Scottish government's former director-general of strategy and external affairs, warning that its contents were "FOI-recoverable." He also sent colleagues an emoji face with a mouth zipped shut.

National Clinical Director Professor Leitch responded: "WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual."

He later told the inquiry he was being “flippant."

The Scottish Government policy on records management states that “regardless of the source medium, information relevant to the corporate record must be saved”.

However, guidance posted on the civil service intranet on April 27 2020 said apps like Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp were for “official info only”, subject to Freedom of Information legislation and are “transitory and not used as the official record”.

It added: “Messages should be deleted as soon as they are no longer needed.”

Despite that policy, both First Minister Humza Yousaf and former finance secretary Kate Forbes have retained all their messages.

Ms Lloyd was asked by junior counsel to the inquiry Tariq Usman if she was aware of the policy.

The former chief of staff said: “A lot of government things would pass through my inbox but I have no recollection of specifically reading that policy at any point in time.

“Private secretaries would occasionally remind you to manage your inboxes, manage your email, mine frequently breached government limits so there would be a need to make sure you were keeping the right stuff, to get rid of extraneous material, not relevant material.”

Lady Hallett, the inquiry chair, then asked Ms Lloyd: “Even if you had seen it, would you have deleted matters that might have been subject to a freedom of information request?”

Ms Lloyd said: “No, I don’t think I would have. Certainly not intentionally anyway.”

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During his questions, Mr Tariq, junior counsel to the inquiry, asked Ms Lloyd if Ms Sturgeon had a government-issued phone.

Ms Lloyd said: “I think she only had one and who provided that phone is not something I can answer.”

Mr Tariq said: “If she had one phone and we hear evidence that it was a personal phone and that she never had a government-issued phone, did she use that one phone to conduct government business with you?”

Ms Lloyd said: “Evidently we had discussions about government business on the phone that she had.”

Mr Tariq asked: “As her chief of staff, did you ever advise her that it might be a good idea to use a government-issued phone to conduct government business?”

Ms Lloyd said: “I don’t know that I did. I am aware that on ministers’ personal phones the government installs a sort of secure app, so I would be less concerned with the device and more concerned with the security.”