Nicola Sturgeon has been warned not to hide behind formulaic memory lapses when she appears before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry this week.

The former First Minister is expected to be grilled on the mass deletion of her WhatsApp messages from the time of the pandemic on Wednesday.

Inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC is also expected to quiz her on relations between the Scottish and UK governments and their varying approaches to the crisis.

Ms Sturgeon’s all-day evidence session has echoes of her marathon appearance before the Holyrood committee investigating the Alex Salmond affair in 2021.

Although she emerged relatively unscathed, she was criticised for repeatedly claiming to have forgotten key points despite being famed for her attention to detail and powers of recall.

The Scottish Tories said that if she did it again it wouldn't wash.

MSP Craig Hoy said: “If she tries her usual routine of ‘I can’t recall’, ‘I would have to check’ and ‘I wasn’t at that meeting’ then the public will rightly draw their own conclusions.”

Ms Sturgeon promised during a televised Covid briefing in 2021 that she would hand over her WhatsApp messages to the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries.

However the UK Inquiry under Lady Hallett recently confirmed the former FM had “retained no messages whatsoever”, leading to an outcry at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon subsequently issued a statement saying that she had managed to retrieve copies of some informal messages from other people and submitted those.

However the scale and timeframe of these messages is unclear

Other WhatsApp messages released by the Inquiry last week showed Ms Sturgeon and her then chief of staff Liz Lloyd discussing and deciding steps on Covid via WhatsApp.

They also showed Ms Sturgeon called then PM Boris Johnson a “f***ing clown” and his lockdown announcement to the country in October 2020 “f***ing excruciating”.

Ms Lloyd also said she wanted a “good old-fashioned rammy” with the UK Government so that she could “think about something other than sick people”.

After several other senior people in the Scottish Government’s Covid response also deleted their WhatsApp messages, and the Government initially tried to withhold 28,000 of those which survived, Humza Yousaf admitted the situation was not good enough.

Last week, he announced an externally-led review of how the Government used mobile messaging apps as part of a wider investigation into its record management processes.

Mr Hoy said: “Nicola Sturgeon has some serious questions to answer. 

“She needs to explain, if she can, why she gave promises that she would provide all her communications when she knew she was already deleting them on an industrial scale.

“She needs to say why she claimed to be of the view that using the pandemic for political capital would be appalling, when she’d come fresh from an SNP cabinet meeting that had decided to do just that.

“Nicola Sturgeon might try to defend her preference for ‘a rammy’ with the UK government over helping sick people but it simply won’t wash with the public she repeatedly and cynically misled.”

In her written statement, Ms Sturgeon said: “The Inquiry does have messages between me and those I most regularly communicated with through informal means. 

“Although these had not been retained on my own device, I was able to obtain copies which I submitted to the Inquiry last year.

“To be clear, I conducted the Covid response through formal processes from my office in St Andrews House, not through WhatsApp or any other informal messaging platform. 

“I was not a member of any WhatsApp groups. The number of people I communicated with through informal messaging at all was limited.

“Also, any handwritten notes made by me were passed to my private office to be dealt with and recorded as appropriate.

“Throughout the entire process, I acted in line with Scottish Government policy.” 

Former FM Alex Salmond has suggested some WhatsApp deletions may relate to him.

In late 2020 and early 2021, he and Ms Sturgeon were the focus of a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s mishandling of a sexual misconduct complaint against him.

After the investigation became public knowledge in 2018, Mr Salmond challenged the process in a judicial review at the Court of Session, proving it had been unfair, unlawful and tainted by apparent bias. He was awarded £512,000 towards his legal costs in 2019.