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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Wales not so special after all

The start of the Wales section of the Covid inquiry gave us a strong clue as to why the Welsh Government has been reluctant to follow Scotland's example and set up their own inquest. It seems that, despite the spin, Wales  was as much of a shitshow as the rest of the UK when it came to managing the pandemic.

The BBC reports on claims at the inquiry that the then health minister, Vaughan Gething, one of the men hoping to be the next first minister, automatically deleted messages from his phone during the pandemic.

They say that a barrister for a bereaved families group said Vaughan Gething used a disappearing messages feature when he was health minister:

The comments came during the first day of the UK inquiry's Welsh module, sitting in Cardiff.

Mr Gething said last week: "Everything I have got I have provided."

A senior adviser to the first minister, Jane Runeckles, was also said to have used disappearing messages.

But a Welsh government lawyer denied that WhatsApps were used for making decisions.

Tuesday was the first day of module 2B of the inquiry, which is examining the Welsh government's response to the virus.

The hearing also heard how a deputy minister called it "odd" that Welsh Labour cancelled its conference but allowed 20,000 Scottish fans to travel to Cardiff for a Six Nations game.

Vaughan Gething, who is now economy minister but held the health brief through the pandemic until May 2021, is running against Jeremy Miles to be the next leader of Welsh Labour.

The use of WhatsApps, and whether or not they have been retained, has been a controversial issue throughout the inquiry.

Nia Gowman, barrister for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, told the hearing that the "limited messages" disclosed to the inquiry showed WhatsApp and texts were used to discuss government business "where they shouldn't have been".

"They show Welsh government senior special advisors suspiciously and systematically deleting communications," she said.

Messages were sent by special advisers to ministers reminding them to "clear out WhatsApp chats once a week", Ms Gowman said.

"They showed Jane Runeckles, the most senior special advisor for the first minister for Wales, and Vaughan Gething, minister for health, turning on disappearing messages," she added.

First Minister Mark Drakeford told BBC Wales in January he had used electronic means of communicating "very little" during the pandemic.

But Ms Gowman said Mr Drakeford was regularly using the texting system to discuss policy announcements and seek clarification on the rules.

The counsel to the inquiry itself, Tom Poole, said that hundreds of messages have been disclosed from "numerous Whatsapp groups".

But he said the inquiry will want to know why messages have been deleted.

This show is going to run and run.
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