Nicola Sturgeon fights back tears at Covid Inquiry as she's grilled about her pandemic leadership

31 January 2024, 13:29

Nicola Sturgeon emotional as she testifies to COVID inquiry

By Will Taylor

Nicola Sturgeon fought back tears as she was grilled during the Covid inquiry.

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The first minister became emotional when she was quizzed about her leadership during the pandemic.

The inquiry's counsel Jamie Dawson KC said the former Scottish first minister "did not like light to be shone" on her decision making during the Covid crisis.

She batted that question away, saying she would "very strongly refute" that assertion.

But as she was asked about speculations about using the pandemic for political gain, she had to fight back tears.

"I was the first minister when the pandemic struck. There's a large part of me wishes that I hadn't been but I was and I wanted to be the best first minister," she said.

"It's for others to judge the extent to which I succeeded."

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon admits she deleted Covid WhatsApps and allowed ‘burner’ phones on expenses

Nicola Sturgeon broke down in tears
Nicola Sturgeon broke down in tears. Picture: Screengrab

She rejected that she was "thinking of political opportunity" early in the pandemic as her voice shook.

Ms Sturgeon, who was heckled upon arrival at the inquiry in Edinburgh, has already admitted deleting Covid-era WhatsApp messages but denied ever using the chat app to make big decisions.

She confirmed she deleted messages but insisted it wasn’t her ‘style’ to have lengthy or detailed discussions on WhatsApp or to make policy decisions.

In a statement she said: "During the pandemic I did not make extensive use of informal messaging and certainly did not use it to make decisions."

She said she used ‘informal’ communication methods “very rarely and not to discuss issues of substance or anything that could be described as decision-making."

She also accepted that on her authority ‘burner’ phones had been put on parliamentary expenses.

“I didn’t personally purchase them, they were also not for use by me. Many MSPs I believe did the same when the pandemic started.”

She said that her constituency office phone number was diverted to the homes of her staff.

“I have never to the best of my knowledge seen, held and certainly not used any of these phones,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon previously said despite messages having "not been retained" on her own device, she was still able to obtain copies to submit to the inquiry last year.

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a 'f***ing clown' and 'utterly incompetent' over Covid lockdowns, inquiry hears

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon says Covid inquiry has copies of messages after hearing heard pandemic texts were 'all deleted'

It comes after WhatsApp messages between Ms Sturgeon and then chief of staff Liz Lloyd revealed that she branded Boris Johnson "a f****** clown".

She blasted Mr Johnson for his "utter incompetence", saying it was "offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere".

Ms Sturgeon went on to say the former PM's address to the nation on October 31 2020 was "f****** excruciating" and that the UK Government's communications were "awful".

Ms Lloyd said she was "offended" on behalf of special advisers everywhere.

"He is a f****** clown," Ms Sturgeon replied.

First Minister Humza Yousaf leaving the UK Covid Inquiry hearing last week
First Minister Humza Yousaf leaving the UK Covid Inquiry hearing last week. Picture: Alamy

Current first minister Humza Yousaf offered an "unreserved" apology for the Scottish Government's "frankly poor" handling of requests for WhatsApp messages during his evidence last Thursday.

He announced an external review into the Government's use of mobile messaging.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "As the First Minister outlined, he has commissioned an externally-led review into the use of mobile messaging apps and non-corporate technology in the Scottish Government.

"This will take particular account of Government interaction with statutory public inquiries.

"During this period, we will continue to keep our records management policy under review in line with legislation.

"The external review will inform a wider internal records management policy review.

"More detail on the external and internal reviews will be given in due course."

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