Nicola Sturgeon has admitted she deleted her WhatsApp messages – despite promising to hand over everything to the inquiry into the pandemic.

The former first minister has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for failing to hand over her WhatsApp messages with other key players involved in Scotland’s response to the pandemic.

Speaking at one of her media briefings during the pandemic in August 2021, Ms Surgeon agreed that all communications made during the crisis would be disclosed to any future public inquiries, insisting that "nothing will be off limits" – including "emails, WhatsApps [and] private emails".

She added: "Even if I wasn't prepared to give that assurance, which for the avoidance of doubt, I am, then I wouldn't have the ability [to do otherwise]. This will be a judge-led public inquiry."

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But Ms Sturgeon had already deleted her messages at this point.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, said: “To delete WhatsApp messages in such a wholesale scale, to outright lie to journalists and therefore to the public, I think is completely and utterly unforgivable, and it demonstrates a culture of secrecy and cover-up that has infected every part of this SNP government.”

Appearing in front of the UK Covid Inquiry, Ms Sturgeon initially said she had not “retained” the messages before admitting under scrutiny that she had deleted her messages.

Jamie Dawson KC asked Ms Sturgeon if she had deleted her messages.

She suggested that “deletion” sounds like she was “not bothering to check whether any information was being retained”, stressing that was not the case.

Ms Sturgeon added: “In line with the advice I’d always been given since my first day in government probably was not to retain conversations like that on a phone that could be lost or stolen and therefore not secure.”

Mr Dawson said: “But did you delete them?”

She replied: “Yes.”

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Mr Dawson said: “As far as the other messages are concerned that you couldn’t produce yourself between yourself and all these others, you deleted all of those as well?”

In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “In the manner that I’ve set out, yes.”

Ms Sturgeon said she did not recall receiving a “do not destroy” order from senior civil servants relating to the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry, but added she would not have “required to see that to know the matters that were relevant”.

Asked about her previous assurances to hand over messages at her media briefing, Ms Sturgeon insisted she had been “trying to answer the substance” of the question.

She added: "I apologise if that answer was not as clear."

Referring to the exchange in August 2021, inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC said that she was “asked specific questions about informal means of communication, including WhatsApps”.

Read more: Live: Sturgeon questioned by UK Covid Inquiry

He added: “But you knew by that stage that your WhatsApps had been destroyed?”

Ms Sturgeon responded: “I also knew that anything of any relevance or substance from any of that material would be properly recorded in the Scottish Government system.”

Pressed over her use of WhatsApp, Ms Sturgeon said: “I operated from 2007, based on advice, the policy that messages, business relating to government should not be kept on a phone that could be lost or stolen and insecure in that way, but properly recorded through the system.

“I would want to again underline that communication was extremely limited and would not relate it to matters of substantive government decision-making.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy, said: “This was a desperate and cynical attempt by Nicola Sturgeon to refute compelling evidence of her secrecy and politicisation of the pandemic – evidence that was obtained from others because she deleted all her WhatsApp messages.

“We know she blatantly lied to the public – when she told a journalist that she would hand over all WhatsApp messages to the inquiry, despite having already begun destroying them – yet she pathetically brushed this off as her not being as ‘clear’ as she might have been.

“She also took issue with the description of her ‘deleting’ messages, arguing instead that she merely ‘did not retain’ them. That’s nonsense.