Gething told ministers he was deleting Covid-era messages

Vaughan Gething told ministers during the pandemic that he was deleting messages from a group chat, it has emerged.

The now-first minister and then-health minister warned colleagues in 2020 that the messages could be captured by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Despite admitting sending the message Mr Gething told BBC Wales he never deleted any messages from his own phone, because he would not have the time or inclination.

Opposition parties accused Mr Gething of potentially misleading the Covid inquiry over how the Welsh government retained information.

In a ministerial group chat on August 17 2020, when he was health minister, Mr Gething wrote: "I'm deleting the messages in this group."

The message, first reported by Nation.Cymru, added: "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."

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies told the Welsh Parliament the messages were sent on iMessage - the Apple iPhone text messaging system.

BBC Wales was told that the messages were sent on a phone provided by the Senedd to Mr Gething.

In an interview on Tuesday he told the BBC he had "not deleted messages that relate to decision making, and in fact I never deleted any text message from my phone, because I never had the time or inclination".

In the Senedd chamber, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth asked whether Mr Gething had perjured himself in his inquiry evidence.

Mr Gething asked Mr ap Iorwerth to withdraw the accusation, which he called "obnoxious".

The first minister suggested the message sought to avoid embarrassing comments between ministers coming to light.

Meanwhile the Covid inquiry said it would be considering whether to take more evidence from Mr Gething.

Both opposition parties have written to the inquiry asking it to recall Mr Gething.

In First Minister’s Questions Mr Gething told the Welsh Parliament that the message had been published "without the context of the discussion".

Mr Davies accused Mr Gething of trying to "circumnavigate" the FOI act and being in breach of the law and any commitments to public inquiries.

Mr Gething said Mr Davies was misreading the act, and said the messages related to a conversation between ministers about a Labour group meeting in August 2020.

"It is not about decision making to do with the pandemic. It's about comments that colleagues make to and about each other.

"It's about ensuring that we don't provide things that are potentially embarrassing," he said.

A redacted screenshot of the message and ones that proceeded it
BBC Wales was shown a redacted screenshot of the message and ones that proceeded it in the group chat [BBC]


Mr ap Iorwerth quoted Mr Gething’s evidence at the Covid inquiry where he said: "I understood that we'd kept and maintained all the information that we should do".

Plaid Cymru's leader continued: “Does the first minister understand why people are asking today whether he committed perjury in giving that evidence under oath?”

Mr Gething said the message related "to a discussion within the Labour group, and about how people do and don't talk to each other”.

“I reject completely the suggestion that I have not been honest with the Covid inquiry.”

Later he said he was “entirely relaxed” about a screenshot of the message being seen by the inquiry, and said a unredacted version would be shared with the inquiry.

Mr ap Iorwerth, referring to the scandal surrounding Mr Gething’s leadership donations, said: “Sadly the Senedd on all benches is losing faith in this first minister's ability to lead without distractions. Seven weeks in and his leadership is about survival.”

Mr Gething said later: “I hope that when the member has a fuller picture of events, he will withdraw the obnoxious accusation he has made.”

He added: "I say again: I have provided all of the information available to me. I have not deleted information by text or WhatsApp to try to avoid scrutiny."

At the Covid inquiry, on 11 March this year, Mr Gething said: "I understood that we'd kept and maintained all the information that we should do, and it would be made available to this inquiry."

In a statement he had told the inquiry he had two Senedd phones. The first he had stopped using in July 2021 and which had its data transferred to a second phone.

The phone was returned for maintenance, he said in a witness statement, in June 2022, and was wiped.

The contents of the phone was backed up with the exception of text messages. "I did not realise that at the time," he said.

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."