Humza Yousaf has apologised for the mass deletion of Covid WhatsApp messages, describing Scottish Government policy on the issue as "frankly poor". 

Giving evidence at the UK Covid inquiry in Edinburgh, the First Minister said there was "no excuse" for the erasure of informal messages between ministers and officials during the pandemic. 

Jamie Dawson KC, lead counsel for the inquiry in Scotland, asked Mr Yousaf if he agreed that it was important to retain a record of "material relating to the way in which decisions were taken" so that "lessons could be learned and a better response to the pandemic be developed"? 

"That is correct," said Mr Yousaf, adding: "On this issue of informal messages, including WhatsApps, let me unreservedly apologise to this inquiry but also to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one by Covid, for the government's frankly poor handling of the various Rule Nine requests in relation to informal messaging. 

"There's no excuse for it. We should have done better, and it's why I reiterate that public apology today."

Mr Yousaf went on to say that "for too long" it had been the "organisational mindset" within the Scottish Government that "because the corporate record had those salient points, that was the only thing really that was to be handed over to the inquiry". 

He acknowledged that the inquiry "made clear, of course, that you were seeking more than that". 

He added: "There is clearly a gap that exists in relation to now informal material should be retained in relation to a statutory public inquiry."


The inquiry heard that Mr Yousaf used his own personal phones to conduct government business during the course of the pandemic rather than a government-issued phone.

Mr Dawson said it was "fortuitous" that Mr Yousaf had been able to supply the inquiry with his own WhatsApp messages. 

Documentation provided to the inquiry in October 2023 by the Scottish Government contained an entry stating that all of Mr Yousaf's messages were deleted "after a month for cyber security purposes".

However, Mr Yousaf had been able to recover them by logging in and out of his account on a previous phone handset. 

The Herald: Humza Yousaf giving evidence to the Covid inquiryHumza Yousaf giving evidence to the Covid inquiry (Image: PA)

The inquiry heard that there were "frequent" voice notes during the pandemic between the national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, and Mr Yousaf - who served as justice secretary and latterly health and social care secretary.

Asked whether detail of these exchanges were kept for the corporate record, Mr Yousaf said it "would always be the practice that we would seek to do that".

Earlier the inquiry was told that no minutes had been kept from Scottish Government Gold Command meetings held to respond to the Covid crisis. 

These were described by Mr Yousaf as a "tighter cast list of Cabinet Secretaries" than those who would normally meet for Cabinet briefings, but said that they "should have been" minuted. 

Mr Yousaf was pressed on whether Nicola Sturgeon - as First Minister during the pandemic - preferred to make decisions on her own or with a small team of advisors. 

Mr Yousaf said he would "not agree" with the characterisation that the Scottish Cabinet was - as Mr Dawson suggested - "a decision ratifying body rather than the main decision making body".

He said: "For my attendance at cabinet meetings, there was a good engaging conversation, as I said, at times disagreement on the approach that was taken, but our cabinet meetings were a good discussion."

Mr Dawson said a WhatsApp message from Prof Leitch to Mr Yousaf on the day he was appointed health secretary suggested otherwise, with Prof Leitch commenting in relation to the First Minister that she was in "'keep it small' shenanigans as always" and "actually wants none of us".

Mr Dawson said: "Was this an indication in fact that the First Minister really took decisions in connection with the pandemic herself or at least would have preferred it that way?"

Mr Yousaf said: "I don't doubt of course there were times the former first minister needed a tighter cast list and wanted one.

"I think this is a classic example of Jason perhaps over speaking."