Boris Johnson says WhatsApps for Covid inquiry recoveredon July 21, 2023 at 4:46 pm

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The inquiry is waiting for some of the ex-PM’s messages, due to problems accessing his old phone.

Boris JohnsonImage source, PA Media

Boris Johnson says WhatsApps before May 2021 that are due to be handed to the Covid inquiry have now been downloaded.

There has been a delay in getting them to the inquiry, as they were on the former PM’s old phone and he could not remember the pass code.

Technicians feared that getting it wrong could lead to the data being wiped.

But there was a breakthrough last week, when the government found a record of his Pin code.

A spokesman said technical experts had now “successfully recovered all relevant messages from the device”.

“The inquiry process requires that a security check of this material is now made by the Cabinet Office,” the spokesman added.

“The timing of any further progress on delivery to the inquiry is therefore under the Cabinet Office’s control.”

The department said it would carry out the checks as soon as it was given access to the material.

The inquiry has requested the WhatsApp messages as part of its investigations into UK government decision-making on Covid. Hearings for that part of the inquiry are due to begin in October.

Raw messages

It has requested messages on Mr Johnson’s devices from a group chat that was set up to discuss the response to the pandemic.

It has also demanded his one-to-one messages exchanged during the pandemic with around 40 politicians, advisers and officials, including then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Simon Case, the UK’s top civil servant.

The government had attempted to block release of the raw messages, arguing that some of them were irrelevant to the inquiry and that it should be able to redact – or blank out – these before handing them over.

But it was ordered to hand over the messages unredacted earlier this month, after a legal challenge it mounted was struck down in the High Court.

It has previously said the “unambiguously irrelevant” WhatsApps it held included messages about disciplinary matters, family information, and “comments of a personal nature” about individuals.

Crossbench peer Baroness Hallett, who chairs the inquiry, has also revealed the government redacted WhatsApps about “relations between the UK and Scottish governments,” and how WhatsApp itself should be used to discuss policy.

She has also disclosed an initial decision was made to blank out messages between Mr Johnson and his advisers about how the Met police enforced Covid laws at a March 2021 vigil following the murder of Sarah Everard.

Writing in May, she said the redactions were later removed but “it was not a promising start”.

Phone change

Mr Johnson was forced to change his mobile phone in 2021 after it emerged his number had been publicly available online for 15 years.

The former prime minister has insisted throughout that he is happy to share the messages on his old phone when they are accessible.

The eventual release of the messages to the inquiry does not necessarily mean the public will see them in full.

The Cabinet Office can apply to the inquiry to make redactions before they are sent to so-called core participants, including other witnesses, government departments and bereaved family groups.

The inquiry could apply its own redactions. It could also decide not to make the messages public at all.

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