Wales’s first minister ‘entirely relaxed’ after being accused of misleading COVID Inquiry

Politics

Wales’s first minister Vaughan Gething has said he is “entirely relaxed” after being accused of misleading the UK COVID Inquiry.

Nation.Cymru reported on Tuesday that Mr Gething sent a text message in which he said “I’m deleting the messages in this group”.

“They can be captured in an FOI [Freedom of Information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made,” the message added.

The Welsh news outlet reported the message was posted in a ministerial group chat on Monday 17 August 2020.

“The message that has been published today is a message from me without the context of the discussion,” Mr Gething said at First Minister’s questions.

“I have asked for the screenshot in its full form to be shared with the inquiry so the context can be seen.”

Image:
A screenshot of a message in which Vaughan Gething says he is “deleting the messages in this group”. Pic: Welsh government

Leader of the Welsh Conservative group, Andrew RT Davies, has written to inquiry chair Baroness Hallett.

More on Covid Inquiry

When asked about the message by Mr Davies, Mr Gething said it was part of “a conversation between ministers that relates to a Labour group meeting in August 2020”.

“It does not relate to decisions captured and it’s actually about the way in which we described what we are doing,” he said.

Mr Gething said he was “entirely relaxed about the screenshot”.

“If they want to question me about it, I will have no difficulty at all in appearing before them and having the conversation,” he said.

“August 2020 is nearly four years ago, but I am still affected on a regular basis by the choices we had to make and the pressure we were under.

“I have been and will continue to be entirely honest and transparent with the inquiry about what I did and why, and the choices that I helped to make to try and keep our country safe.”

Image:
Vaughan Gething has previously given evidence to the COVID Inquiry. File pic: PA

‘Did not have back up’

Mr Gething told the COVID Inquiry in March that he had two Welsh government phones and two Senedd phones throughout the pandemic.

He returned his first Senedd phone in March 2022, but said he did not recall using it after the previous July.

The data from his first Senedd phone was initially transferred to his second, Mr Gething said.

In June 2022, he returned his second phone to the Senedd for maintenance and it was rebuilt.

Mr Gething said in his written evidence to the inquiry that the phone’s content was backed up to the iCloud linked to his personal Apple ID.

“My iCloud has been checked and it does not have WhatsApp or text messages stored prior to June 2022,” he said.

“I am now aware that my iCloud settings did not have back up for text messages turned on. I did not realise that at the time.

“Enquiries have been made on my behalf with the Senedd IT team who do not have any backup stored on their system prior to June 2022.”

‘Point of embarrassment’

But Mr Gething said that where there were any texts still on his second Senedd phone, he had “provided these to the Welsh government legal team to be reviewed”.

Mr Gething was asked by the counsel to the inquiry whether he regretted “not taking any steps to ensure that your texts and WhatsApps on that phone…were recorded”.

“No, not at that time because of course I had a second phone that had all those messages on it,” he said.

“I certainly do regret the fact that all those messages aren’t available to you, because you could see them and satisfy yourself that all of the information there is consistent with all the information in the records you do have in front of you.

“It’s a point of embarrassment, and if I had been able to provide all of those records, then I don’t think that this would really be the issue that I understand it is for a number of people.”

Read more:
The families in Wales who want answers from COVID inquiry
Why people are calling for probe into £200k Gething donation

A spokesperson for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry said: “These reports have been brought to the attention of the inquiry this morning.

“The inquiry is considering the information available and whether it is necessary to seek further evidence from Mr Gething.”

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