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Three years of messages missing from First Minister’s phone, Covid inquiry told

13 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Screen grab from the UK Covid-19 Inquiry live stream of Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales. Photo Covid-19 Inquiry/PA Wire

The First Minister has been unable to recover messages from his phone for a period spanning almost three years, an inquiry has heard.

Mark Drakeford, giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, said he had “no way of knowing” how or where messages were stored on his device.

He was asked by Tom Poole KC, counsel to the inquiry, whether it was correct that he had been unable to recover messages from July 2018 to March 2021 from his Senedd-issued mobile phone.

Mr Drakeford replied: “Apparently not.”


Asked what efforts had been made to recover the messages, he told the hearing: “Well I use only one telephone.

“There are a number of telephones you could use but I use only the one and that’s the one supplied to me as a member of the Senedd, not as a Welsh Government minister.

“I have no knowledge or expertise in the way in which messages are stored or not stored. As soon as the inquiry asked for messages, then my phone was handed over and all the messages available have been made available to the inquiry.

“I would have no way of knowing where they were stored or how they were stored or which were still available, but efforts would have been made by Senedd technical staff with that competence to make sure the inquiry had everything that was available.”

Mr Drakeford told the hearing he had used WhatsApp 11 times during the pandemic, including one message saying “thanks” and another complaining he could not hear the sound of the Senedd.

Text messages

He described himself as a “very, very infrequent user of WhatsApp” and said he used text messages more frequently.

The inquiry heard there were a number of Welsh Government policies on the use of informal methods of communication, with WhatsApp prohibited for discussions of Government business.

Mr Drakeford replied: “I do accept that. It’s the policy that’s wrong, not the practice.”

He said the policy was in place from 2009, adding that “in the circumstances of dealing with a pandemic, the policy did not make sense”.

Mr Drakeford was asked about the disappearing messages function, which was turned on by a number of Welsh Government officials.

“Insofar as I am well informed about these things, I think it’s what people do all the time,” he said.

“I don’t think people would have been doing it with an eye to a future inquiry when they did so.

“Now that the spotlight has been shone on these matters in the way that it has, then it would have been better had things not been deleted.

“But I don’t believe it was in order to escape the gaze of anybody else that people would have taken that very ordinary decision.”


Responding to Mr Drakeford’s comments, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “The arrogance on display by the First Minister today on the issue of WhatsApps has been astounding. Despite the First Minister himself, Government Ministers and his officials acting against Welsh Government policy in conducting business over WhatsApp, he doesn’t see an issue with the practice and believes his Ministers turning on disappearing messages at the height of the pandemic is not out of the norm.

“It is deeply troubling that the First Minister displayed a casual attitude to record keeping as some of his messages over a three year period, for reasons which remain unclear, have not been kept.

“Crucial policy was being discussed in these messages and we need to see the process by which those decisions were made in order to learn how they came to those decisions. These are lessons we must learn so that mistakes are not repeated. That’s why this is so important.

“At best, it’s pure naivety from Wales’s highest ranking elected member. At worst, he has allowed his government to deliberately avoid scrutiny by not instructing colleagues to retain key information for a future inquiry.

“This Labour Welsh Government has too long hidden behind the incompetence of Westminster, when in reality, they too have a lot to answer for. The people of Wales deserve better than politicians who absolve themselves of responsibility. This is further evidence why we need a Wales-specific Covid Inquiry.”

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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
4 months ago

Pathetic points scoring by Plaid. Thank goodness they were not in charge during the pandemic. They can’t even run their own party properly!

4 months ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

Plaid, Labour, what’s the difference? They are both identical except for one wants to go independent….

A Evans
A Evans
4 months ago

Corruption by WhatsApp, wholesale. By the way you can’t “lose” WhatsApp records, you have to “delete” them! This is an example of how the Labour Senedd regard us- stupid enough to buy that lie!

4 months ago
Reply to  A Evans

Disable remote message backups, wipe phone, job done – messages lost. I’ve lost messages – without having to delete them – when switching to iPhone from Android. Whatsapp on an iPhone can’t import the backups created by an Android phone (or at least it couldn’t at the time, it might have changed since then). Managed devices that might be issued by organisations – or governments – don’t always work the same way as your average personal phone. They can often be remotely managed, remotely wiped, or have their settings changed remotely. It’s entirely possible that, since the Senedd wasn’t supposed… Read more »

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