Vaughan Gething sacks minister accused of leak over deleted Covid Whatsapps

Hannah Blythyn
Hannah Blythyn has been sacked from the Welsh Labour government as the minister for social partnership - Ben Evans/Huw Evans/Shutterstock
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The First Minister of Wales has sacked a member of his government who he claims leaked a message suggesting he had misled the Covid Inquiry.

Labour’s Vaughan Gething, who became First Minister in March, said on Thursday that he had “no alternative” but to dismiss Hannah Blythyn, the minister for social partnership.

Mr Gething told the Covid Inquiry in March that he did not intentionally delete pandemic WhatsApp correspondence – only for a leaked iMessage earlier this month to emerge suggesting he had done so.

“Having reviewed the evidence available to me regarding the recent disclosure of communication to the media, I have regrettably reached the conclusion I have no alternative but to ask Hannah Blythyn to leave the government,” he said.

Ms Blythyn denied responsibility for the leak, saying she was “deeply shocked” by the dismissal.

“I am clear and have been clear that I did not, nor have I ever leaked anything,” she said. “Integrity is all in politics and I retain mine.”

Mr Gething, who was the health minister during the pandemic, told the Covid Inquiry that lost messages were not deleted by him but by the Welsh Senedd’s IT team during a security rebuild.

But an iMessage leaked to news website Nation.Cymru earlier this month cast doubt on his version of events.

In a message posted to the ministerial group chat on Aug 17 2020, Mr Gething appears to have 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 in the right place on the choice being made.”

He denied last week that the message contradicted the evidence he had given to the inquiry in March, claiming that the message did not relate to pandemic decision-making but “comments that colleagues make to and about each other”.

Vaughan Gething, the First Minister of Wales
Vaughan Gething, the First Minister of Wales - Francesca Jones/REUTERS

But Rhun ap Iorwerth, the leader of Plaid Cymru, has called for Mr Gething to consider his position.

“The sacking of one of his ministers and the allegations and counter allegations which surround it, demonstrates again that the First Minister’s priority is self-preservation rather than the public interest,” he said.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, told The Telegraph: “The First Minister needs to take responsibility for his actions.

“He should have provided all of the evidence, including his messages, to the UK Covid Inquiry, but he failed to do so despite stating to them that he had.

Vaughan Gething has instead decided to punish the person that he claims is the whistleblower.”

A spokesman for the Covid Inquiry previously confirmed it had been made aware of the leaked message and was considering whether Mr Gething needed to provide further information.

Telling lies at a statutory public inquiry amounts to perjury, which on conviction can lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years.

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