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New questions raised over missing pandemic messages as presiding officer defends Senedd staff

14 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Vaughan Gething arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry – Image: James Manning

Emily Price

New questions have been raised over Vaughan Gething’s lost pandemic WhatsApp messages following comments made by the Senedd’s presiding officer this week.

At the Covid Inquiry on Monday (March 11) Wales’ former health minister was quizzed about his use of WhatsApp during the pandemic and why many messages were erased.

The Labour leadership hopeful said the messages disappeared following a “security rebuild” on his phone and said he had spoken with the IT team at the Senedd on multiple occasions in an attempt to get them back.

Mr Gething said: “It is a matter of real embarrassment, because if I’d been able to recover those messages then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

In a statement today the Senedd Commission said WhatsApp is “not managed or supported” by the Commission’s ICT Service.

The Senedd Commission also said that ahead of an upgrade in 2022, MSs were “advised” to back-up any data on phones and were offered support to do this.

Messages

Despite initially denying using the messaging app, evidence which emerged this week showed that Mark Drakeford was in a specific messaging group with Mr Gething.

The Inquiry was shown Welsh Government advice, which said that “any and all” official business conducted through personal mobiles and email must be “summarised and saved”.

Mr Gething accepted that, having now looked into the rules “in much more detail” he should not have used the messages in the way he did.

During First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday (March 12), presiding officer Elin Jones appeared to defend Senedd staff saying lost data was not down to the ICT department.

Her comments came following questions from leader of the Welsh Conservative Senedd group, Andrew RT Davies who pressed the First Minister on Senedd protocols regarding ministers phones.

Mr Davies said: “The economy minister highlighted how it was embarrassing that data was lost because the Senedd IT department lost that data when they were upgrading his phone.

“And you’ve alluded to the fact that you’ve used your Senedd device to have exchanges on WhatsApp – how the protocols that the Welsh Government work to in retention of information reaches into devices that are provided by the Senedd.

“Surely there’s a discrepancy there, and, if it doesn’t get captured by the protocols that the Welsh Government undertakes, how on earth can people have confidence that important information is contained and held ready for descriptions and evidence in the Covid inquiry or other inquiries that might require that information?”

At the end of Mr Davies’ weekly slot to quiz Mark Drakeford, the Llywydd, who’s job it is to chair Plenary meetings and remain politically impartial at all times, interjected.

Elin Jones, Y Llywydd | Presiding Officer, AS | MS by Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

‘Criticism’

She said: “I am responsible for the Senedd Commission staff, and I’m sure the leader of the opposition did not seek to imply any criticism of the ICT Senedd staff, in his questioning of the First Minister, on any data that was lost by the ICT department.

“Software updates are very complex and have consequences on all our devices, and it was most definitely not as a result of the Senedd ICT department that the data was lost. So, any criticism of the staff of that department, I’m sure you did not imply that.”

We contacted the Llywydd’s office and asked for clarity on whether the messages were on Mr Gething’s phone when it was handed in to the Senedd for maintenance.

A spokesperson for the Senedd Commission said: “In April 2022, an upgrade to our security protection on Member phones was rolled out. Ahead of the upgrade, Members and their offices were contacted and advised to back-up any data on the phone including non-supported applications. Members were also offered support to do this, if needed.

“Members are able to download any application to their Senedd provided phone. The Senedd Commission facilitates this, but any application which falls outside of Microsoft 365 is not managed or supported by the Commission’s ICT Service. Non-supported applications include WhatsApp.”

Andrew RT Davies has written to the Chair of the Covid Inquiry Baroness Hallett, raising concerns that Ms Jones’ comments “contradict” the evidence provided by Mr Gething.

Whilst giving evidence at the Covid Inquiry on Wednesday (March 13), Mark Drakeford said he had never given a direction to Welsh Government ministers and officials to retain text messages for the purposes of the Inquiry.

On being asked why he hadn’t given such an instruction, he said: “It would not have occurred to me that I would need to do so.”

Vaughan Gething was invited to comment but did not respond.

A Welsh Government spokesperson: “Vaughan Gething made it clear to the Inquiry that WhatsApp is not supported by the Senedd IT team.

“He simply stated as fact that when the phone went in for a rebuild, the messages were on it and when it came back they weren’t. Which is why I can see no contradiction with what he told the Covid Inquiry.”


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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
26 days ago

So many questions over the integrity of Vaughan Gething.

A Evans
A Evans
22 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Don’t leave out Drakeford & Waters!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
26 days ago

So unlike ‘software’ the Senedd ICT Dept is perfect and how dare anyone suggest otherwise !

This government, Welsh Labour, have ruled the roost for far too long…

Why vote
Why vote
26 days ago

If you want any rubbish removed he’s your man bet he hasn’t lost that number or messages, well maybe lost the messages.

A Evans
A Evans
26 days ago

It took some time, but they both worked out a “story” in an attempt to avoid admitting that THEY deleted them!

Howard Humphries
Howard Humphries
25 days ago

Another cover up from a supposedly transparent labour party

A Evans
A Evans
22 days ago

AFTER Drakeford & Water’s realised that there would be a history on WhatsApp, was that when they had them deleted? We all know including them that messages HAVE to be deleted….not “accidentally” lost!

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