THE UK's official public inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid has threatened the Cabinet Office with legal action over its refusal to share Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and diaries from during the pandemic. 

The government department has claimed that some of the material requested by Baroness Hallett should remain secret on grounds of “unambiguous irrelevance.”

They said the “informal and conversational nature” of the messages would represent a “serious intrusion of privacy.”

According to the inquiry chair, this includes messages about "relations between the UK and Scottish governments."

However, the former appeal court judge chairing the inquiry rejected the government's dismissal and said it would be for her and her team to decide what was relevant to her investigation. 

Failure to comply without reasonable excuse before the 30 May deadline would be a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to £1,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of 51 weeks.


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The intervention was welcomed by lawyers acting for the Scottish Covid Bereaved.

They had raised the use of WhatsApp messages in government decision-making during a preliminary hearing in March.

Baroness Hallett agreed and on 28 April issued a legal notice to the Cabinet Office, requiring production of unredacted WhatsApp communications on devices owned or used by Mr Johnson and his former senior adviser Henry Cook.

She explicitly asked for exchanges with chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, the then chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, as well as former adviser Dominic Cummings, and members of his cabinet including Rishi Sunak; Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Mr Hancock.

She also asked for Mr Johnson’s diaries for the same period, "together with notebooks that contain his contemporaneous notes."

All of these were asked for in unredacted.

On 15 May the Cabinet Office made an application to revoke the entirety of the legal notice. 

However, this was rejected, with the inquiry renewing its demand for full and unredacted disclosure, with the threat of criminal sanctions if they failed to comply.

Baroness Hallett said that some of the messages initially assessed by the Cabinet Office to be “unambiguously irrelevant” were "in fact relevant to my investigation and that I would wish to disclose to Core Participants.

"Those passages relate, for example, to the way in which WhatsApp messages should be used in policy formation and to relations between the UK and Scottish governments.

"I recognise that the relevance of at least some of these passages may not have been apparent to the Cabinet Office and its advisers. I repeat, these are matters that I and my team are better placed to assess than any document provider."

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Aamer Anwar, the lawyer who represents the Scottish Covid Bereaved said: "The families we represent welcome the unprecedented and robust response of the Chair to Cabinet Office and their failure to disclose all the material requested. 

"The Government should be answerable to the people, there must be no hiding place for those involved in decision-making. 

"No individual, no matter how powerful can be allowed to interfere with the pursuit of truth, justice, and accountability by this inquiry. Those who lost their lives to Covid-19 deserve nothing less." 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said they believed the inquiry had exceeded its legal powers: “The principle in question here is around disclosure of materials which are clearly irrelevant to the work of the inquiry – for example WhatsApps which are personal in nature, of no relevance to the work of the inquiry, or relate to a wholly different area of policy.

“It’s our position that the inquiry does not have the power to compel the Government to disclose unambiguously irrelevant material, given the precedent that this would set and its potential adverse impact on policy formulation in the future.”

Mr Johnson has insisted it would be “highly prejudicial” to hand over the material. He also revealed he has dismissed government lawyers and asked the Cabinet Office to pay for a private firm.

It comes after two separate police forces launched new probes into allegations of lockdown breaches, after his legal team spotted visits by friends and family to Chequers.

In a letter to Baroness Hallett, the former prime minister wrote: “You may be aware that I am currently instructing new solicitors to represent me in the Inquiry.

“That process is well underway but is in the hands of the Cabinet Office to agree funding and other practical arrangements. I have no control over the timing of that process.

“As of today, I am unrepresented and my counsel team have been instructed not to provide me with any advice.”

Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Johnson would lose the whip if police were to charge him with further lockdown breaches.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said it was a "a hypothetical question.”

Asked whether Mr Sunak has spoken to his predecessor about the controversy, she said: “I don’t believe that they have had a discussion about this.”

Quizzed on what Mr Sunak would say to those claiming Mr Johnson is the victim of a stitch up, she said: “There is an established process for these matters to be looked at and those processes are going on and it’s right that when concerns arise those processes are followed.

“It’s up to MPs to make their own judgments but it’s certainly not something the Prime Minister is doing.”