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Messages deleted by Gething ‘definitely concerned Welsh Government Covid handling’

07 May 2024 6 minute read
Screen grab from the UK Covid-19 Inquiry live stream of of Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister during the pandemic, giving evidence to phase four of the UK Covid inquiry. Photo UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

A senior Labour source has confirmed to Nation.Cymru that messages deleted by Vaughan Gething related “100%” to the handling of the Covid outbreak by the Welsh Government.

The First Minister has been accused of misleading the UK Covid Inquiry by concealing the fact that he deliberately deleted records of conversations with other ministers.

Nation.Cymru exclusively revealed how four years ago, when ministers were making crucial decisions about the management of the outbreak, Mr Gething told ministerial colleagues he was deleting messages on a group chat.

During First Minister’s Questions, the then Health Minister admitted in response to both Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth that on August 17 2020 he sent a message to fellow ministers that said: “I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI [freedom of information disclosure request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.”

But he went on to claim that the messages did not relate to government business, but to Labour group discussions where colleagues were making comments “to and about each other”.

He deleted the messages because having them disclosed under FOI could be “embarrassing”.

Education

However, a senior Labour source with knowledge of the messages said: “Anyone with a knowledge of what was happening at the time would be aware that the matter being discussed was the decision to change the way GCSE and A-level students were assessed for their grades, having had their education affected by lockdown.

“Originally, decisions on grades were made by an algorithm – a decision that caused uproar because many pupils felt they had been undervalued. A ministerial decision was taken that grades would be determined not by the algorithm, but on the basis of teachers’ assessments.

When Vaughan referred to the “choice” that was made, he meant the decision to change the way exams were graded. I’m 100% sure of this and believe that the messages should have been disclosed to the Inquiry.”

A message from another minister on the screenshot leaked to us that appears above Mr Gething’s deletion admission refers facetiously to a “spare algorithm” that could be used to select a successor to a Labour MS who was being mocked.

A further minister on the group chat screenshot referred to “great contributions” from ministers, again demonstrating a serious ministerial discussion about a policy matter.

Vaughan Gething Covid messages redacted

Welsh Government business

Another senior Labour source told us: “It’s absolutely clear that the ‘spare algorithm’ remark related to the decision about the exams and was therefore Welsh Government business. The messages should have been passed to the UK Covid Inquiry, but it seems they weren’t available because Vaughan Gething had deleted them.

“Vaughan’s defence simply doesn’t hold water. If he doesn’t think it was a Welsh Government discussion, why was he concerned about messages being captured by FOI?

“Senedd Members have privilege and their discussions are exempt from FOI. Equally FOI does not apply to discussions within political parties. Vaughan Gething is a former solicitor and a minister and knows full well that for him to be concerned about FOI, he must have considered the messages to be disclosable because it was a Welsh Government discussion.”

Deleted

In a letter to Lady Hallett, Chair of the UK Covid Inquiry, Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies wrote: “It has been reported in Nation.Cymru today that the Labour First Minister of Wales Vaughan Gething deliberately deleted iMessages in a group consisting of other Welsh Government ministers during the Covid period.

“This would appear to contradict statements given to the Covid Inquiry in which the First Minister stated that messages on his phone were deleted by the Senedd’s IT department when his phone was serviced, but that he had not deleted them himself.

“I believe that the First Minister should be given the opportunity to fully explain the apparent contradiction between the words contained on the screenshot and the statements given to the Covid Inquiry. Could the First Minister be recalled to the Inquiry so that he is given the opportunity to answer this apparent contradiction?”

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth wrote a similar letter to Lady Hallett, stating: “As you may be aware, there are concerning media reports today that could significantly undermine the testimony given under oath by the First Minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething, to the UK Covid Inquiry in both written and oral form earlier this year.

“In his evidence, Mr Gething assured your Inquiry that decisions by Welsh Ministers were not taken via informal messaging platforms during the pandemic. Leaked messages from a ministerial group chat, reported by Nation Cymru, casts significant doubt over the veracity of the First Minister’s testimony.

“The First Minister is reported as saying to colleagues ‘I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made’. In his evidence to the Inquiry, Mr Gething insisted that messages were deleted by the Senedd IT department and not by him.

“The work of the Inquiry should not be hindered by statements which are either untrue or incomplete. In light of today’s developments I ask you to recall Vaughan Gething as a witness.”

A spokesperson for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry said: “These reports have been brought to the attention of the Inquiry. The Inquiry is considering the information available and whether it is necessary to seek further evidence from Mr Gething.

“The Inquiry will consider and respond directly to correspondence it receives – not via the media.”


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Neil McEvoy
Neil McEvoy
17 days ago

Imagine how better governed we would be if this issue had one iota of principle attached to it. It is more about a continuation of the Labour leadership campaign. I also recall voting for a Welsh Covid Inquiry, with the bit part players Plaid Cymru supporting Labour not to have one. Gething is not the only one who should go. Once again top class journalism from Martin Shipton. Well done.

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
17 days ago
Reply to  Neil McEvoy

We need a Welsh enquiry but we will never get one because everything is Westminster’s fault.

Annibendod
Annibendod
17 days ago

Looks like Vaughan is deeply unpopular. Question is, who leaked the screenshot? I bet it wont be the last reveal we’ll read about. I can’t see him lasting too long. Sadly, he’s bringing the Senedd into disrepute so the quicker he goes, the better AFAIC.

Steve Thomas
Steve Thomas
17 days ago

His misdemeanours just go on and on and in the meantime he is bringing our SENEDD into the mud on the alter of his own personal aspirations-HE REALLY MUST GO

Why vote
Why vote
17 days ago

Mr Gething at it again, the big I am telling us he is in charge now, he won, he’s top dog, he’s done nothing wrong, stop talking about him and let him get on with his job, will someone please take the shovel away from him his hole is deep enough now, his master’s must be really disappointed with him.. Time to dump labour in the bay.

Wiwergoch
Wiwergoch
17 days ago

Surely this is the nail in the coffin for V.G, I will be astonished if he remains in the job.

Frank
Frank
17 days ago

Unbelievable. One of the first things our new “leader” does is lie through his teeth!! Is this the beginning of more lies to come during his term in office. We pay him and all the others in the Senedd an absolute fortune for the very unimportant things they are allowed to do by Britain’s government. All they have managed so far is drive Cymru into the ground. And, as someone has already said: “They are there to govern not dictate”. But the most unvelievable thing is….. we just let them do it. We need to protest and sling them out… Read more »

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