The Telegraph 2024-01-31 22:01:25

Sturgeon breaks down in tears and admits to deleting WhatsApps: key moments from Covid Inquiry

Nicola Sturgeon broke down in tears as she finally admitted to deleting her WhatsApps from the pandemic.

In a bruising day of evidence, the former first minister told the Covid Inquiry she had started destroying her WhatsApp messages, despite promising Scots they would all be handed over.

Ms Sturgeon said she “didn’t retain” any of the messages before she was directly challenged on whether she had actively deleted them, being forced to admit she had done so.

She repeatedly broke down during questioning from Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the inquiry, and has been accused of “crocodile tears” by bereaved families.

In the first of several occasions when she became emotional, she admitted a “large part of her” wished she had not been in power when the pandemic struck.

The revelations came as the former first minister defended her stance on independence, insisting her “burning desire” for Scotland to break free of Westminster played no role in her lockdown decision-making.

Ms Sturgeon also admitted she wished she had locked the country down sooner.

Here are the key moments from her evidence to the Covid Inquiry.

Emotional Sturgeon wipes away tears

Ms Sturgeon became emotional as she admitted a “large part of her” wished she had not been in power when the pandemic hit.

Her voice broke and she appeared to wipe away tears as she said it was for others to judge how well she had performed.

“I was the first minister when the pandemic struck,” she said. “There’s a large part of me that wishes that I hadn’t been. But I was.

“And I wanted to be the best first minister I could be during that period. It’s for others to judge the extent to which I succeeded.”

Ms Sturgeon appeared on the brink of breaking down shortly after being asked about Boris Johnson.

She acknowledged she did not think he was the right person to be prime minister during the crisis. But she denied this meant she believed she was “precisely the right first minister for the job”, given her experience.

Previous hearings have shown she privately referred to Mr Johnson as a “f—— clown”.

She also appeared upset as she denied looking to use the pandemic for political gain.

“My memories of the early part of 2020 in terms of how I was feeling and thinking, and the emotions that I was experiencing, was first fear at what might be about to unfold and confront the country,

“At times, and I think, you know, you’ve seen snippets perhaps, you know, the sort of human side of being a leader… Perhaps more than anything I felt an overwhelming responsibility to do the best I could.

“So the idea that in those horrendous days, weeks, I was thinking of a political opportunity I find, well, it just wasn’t true”.

Wiped WhatsApps admitted

Nicola Sturgeon eventually admitted to deleting all her WhatsApps from the pandemic and apologised if the public felt misled by her public pledge to hand over all her messages to the inquiry.

After months of obfuscation, the former first minister told the UK inquiry that she “didn’t retain” any of the messages but was then challenged directly on whether she had actively deleted them. “Yes”, she eventually told Mr Dawson.

Ms Sturgeon conceded she had already started destroying them when she made an unequivocal pledge to make them available to the UK and Scottish public inquiries during a televised press conference in August 2021.

In a tense exchange, she insisted that what she meant to promise on TV was that the substance of anything relevant in her messages would be transferred to the Scottish Government’s official record.

She apologised if this was not “clear” when she made the pledge and insisted she had not seen a legal notice handed to the Scottish Government in August 2021, which warned against the destruction of material relevant to the inquiry.

While Ms Sturgeon attempted to downplay her use of WhatsApp. The inquiry heard she used the informal messaging site to contact figures including Humza Yousaf, chief of staff Liz Lloyd, John Swinney, the then deputy first minister, and Jeane Freeman, the former health secretary.

In addition, he said she had contacted Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, and Michelle O’Neill, the then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. Ms Sturgeon accepted she had done so but insisted “those messages would have been extremely limited”.

However, despite her claims that decisions were not made on WhatsApp, messages were shown of Ms Sturgeon engaging in detailed discussions with Ms Lloyd about restrictions for the hospitality industry.

Writing on Oct 27 2020, Ms Sturgeon complained that she was having a “crisis of confidence” and had not slept. After eventually deciding that she should “probably” stick with a 6pm closing time, she said: “It’s all so random.”

The inquiry was previously shown an exchange from August 2020 between Ken Thomson, a senior civil servant who was then manager of the Covid directorate, and other senior colleagues.

Mr Thomson told the others: “Just to remind you (seriously) this is discoverable under FOI. Know where the ‘clear chat’ button is…” He later added: “Plausible deniability is my middle name. Now clear it again!”

He also said “this information you requested is not held centrally”, a stock phrase the Scottish Government uses when refusing FoI requests.

Ms Sturgeon said she interpreted the exchange as “light-hearted”, noting it did not appear to make any decisions on the Covid response.

Asked whether Mr Thomson’s remark about information not being held centrally was “an excuse officials trotted out in response to FoI requests”, she agreed that was “an interpretation that can be out on it”.

She added: “All the public servants are people of the utmost integrity and at this point and throughout the pandemic they were public servants working in a dedicated fashion… above and beyond the call of duty.”

‘Burning desire’ for independence

Ms Sturgeon admitted that she had a “burning desire” for Scotland to become an independent nation.

While she repeatedly insisted that it had played no role in her decision-making, she was confronted with evidence that called this into question.

Among the most damning exchanges was an email sent from her deputy John Swinney’s office, discussing travel corridors in July of 2020.

The message raised serious concerns that should Spain not be added to an exemptions list, it could scupper an independent Scotland’s application to join the EU.

It is often claimed that Spain could block Scotland’s accession to the EU because of a fear that doing so would provide a boost to its own separatist movements.

The email read: “It won’t matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish government would conclude it is entirely political; they won’t forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

However, Ms Sturgeon denied that a possible route to EU membership for an independent Scotland had any bearing on her thinking. She argued that if this had been the case, Spain would never have been added to the list in the first place.

She was also interrogated about a cabinet paper from June 2020 which showed SNP ministers agreed to consider “restarting work on independence and a referendum”, with the case updated with the “experience of the coronavirus crisis”.

Ms Sturgeon insisted that regardless of what the minute says, her government did not begin campaigning for independence at that stage.

She said she had learned “for a fact” that she had been able to separate her constitutional views from Covid decision-making.

“I don’t think in my entire life have I ever thought less about politics generally and independence in particular than I did during those early stages of the pandemic,” she said.

“People will judge for better or worse the decisions my government took. None of those decisions were influenced in any way by political considerations or trying to gain an advantage for the cause of independence.”

Sturgeon’s lockdown regret

Not locking down up to two weeks earlier was one of Nicola Sturgeon’s main regrets, she told the inquiry.

While the former first minister repeatedly said she made general mistakes, not locking down sooner was one of the few specific examples she gave of an action she regretted.

She said: “Of the many regrets I have, probably chief of those is that we didn’t lock down a week, two weeks, earlier than we did.”

The Scottish Government became aware that Covid-19 was something to “be very worried about” in late January 2020, the inquiry heard, with the Cabinet discussing the virus for the first time on Feb 4 that year.

Ms Sturgeon also told the inquiry it was “not unreasonable” to keep information about an early outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh from the public, on the advice of Catherine Calderwood, the then chief medical officer, although she later said she would have “gone the other way”.

She denied the suggestion from Mr Dawson that the Scottish Government was “asleep at the wheel”, after evidence showed that Covid was listed under the “any other business” section in a cabinet meeting as late as February 2020.

Defending Kate Forbes with attack on Yousaf

Ms Sturgeon explained a cabinet row with Humza Yousaf, who would succeed her as First Minister, by claiming she was standing up for his rival Kate Forbes.

Mr Yousaf provoked anger from Ms Sturgeon at a cabinet meeting in December 2021 when he said he had found £100 million from his health budget which could help pay to compensate businesses for additional restrictions.

Mr Yousaf described taking “a hell of a bullet” at the meeting, while Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, privately described Ms Sturgeon’s behaviour as “absolutely ridiculous”.

However, Ms Sturgeon said she had been angered by Mr Yousaf springing the offer of an extra £100 million on colleagues, after Ms Forbes, her finance secretary, “diligently” attempted to find more cash but came up with nothing.

“I was not particularly happy about it,” she admitted. “A couple of weeks before that Mr Yousaf had said he may be able to find some money, and my response was ‘speak to Kate’. It appeared he hadn’t done so.

“It was more on behalf of Ms Forbes, as I felt it did a disservice to her, and the very professional job she had done.”

Ms Sturgeon denied that the exchange was indicative of a culture in which she did not “take kindly” to ministers making unsolicited suggestions or challenging her at cabinet meetings.

Drinking straw DNA shows beautician is Lamborghini founder’s granddaughter, court hears

A beautician from Naples claims she is the secret granddaughter of the founder of Lamborghini sports cars and says she has the DNA – taken from a drinking straw – to prove it.

Flavia Borzone, 35, from Naples, instructed a private detective to retrieve a drinking straw from Elettra Lamborghini, who is a model, socialite and singer, in order to obtain her saliva and prove they are sisters.

Ms Borzone says she is the illegitimate daughter of 76-year-old Tonino Lamborghini, whose father Ferruccio created the luxury car in northern Italy in 1963.

The company is now owned by the Volkswagen Group through its subsidiary, Audi.

Ms Borzone’s claims emerged from a court case in Bologna on Monday.

Experts from the University of Ferrara said that the DNA sample proved a genetic match between Ms Borzone and Ms Lamborghini, showing they were sisters.

Lawyers for the beautician said the DNA link was “irrefutable”. The DNA material had been collected by a private detective from a straw that Ms Lamborghini had used when she drank an iced coffee, the court heard. One Italian newspaper called it “the straw of a thousand secrets”.

Ms Borzone says that she was born from a relationship between her mother, Rosalba Colosimo, and Mr Lamborghini, after they met at a bus stop in Milan in 1980.

Mr Lamborghini was allegedly driving by when he noticed the young woman waiting for a bus and stopped to offer her a lift. The two struck up a relationship and Ms Borzone was born in 1988, it is claimed.

“I don’t want to offend anyone, I just want to know whose daughter I am,” Ms Borzone told the court.

Convinced that she is the daughter of Mr Lamborghini, she went public with the claims on television programmes and gossip magazines.

Mr Lamborghini accused her, and her mother, of defamation and the case has now gone to court.

Ms Borzone says that in 2019 she drove from her home in Naples to the town of Funo, near Bologna in northern Italy, hoping to meet the man she claims is her father.

“She had had this niggle for a long time,” said her lawyer, Gian Maria Romanello. “She did not have the same physical features as her supposed father. When he and her mother argued, she would often hear her mother say: ‘She’s not even your daughter.’”

The beautician covertly recorded the conversation she had with Mr Lamborghini and it was presented in court, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

“In the conversation, Mr Lamborghini admitted to having had a relationship with Colossimo [Ms Borzone’s mother],” the lawyer told the court. “They met in 1980 in Milan. Rosalba was waiting for a bus, Tonino passed by in his car, he gave her a lift.”

Ms Borzone’s official first name is Clelia, which was a tribute to Mr Lamborghini’s mother, the court was told.

Ms Borzone was not pursuing the case for financial reasons, her mother said. “My daughter doesn’t want money, she just wants the truth,” Ms Colosimo said. “If it had been all about the money, I would have done all this when Flavia was two years old.”

Mr Lamborghini has denied having any biological link to Ms Borzone.

His lawyers said the DNA material was taken from the straw used by his daughter without her consent. It was therefore “unlawful” and should not be admitted as evidence.

Referring to the DNA test results, Sergio Culiersi, another lawyer for the beautician, said: “We brought to court the proof that she is not lying.”

He said a comparison between the DNA of Ms Borzone and Ms Lamborghini “proved 100 per cent that the women are sisters”.

He added: “For us it was important to show that Flavia Borzone did not want to offend Mr Lamborghini, she just wants to be recognised [as his daughter)]. She has lived for years without knowing who her father is.”

Ms Borzone’s legal team said Mr Lamborghini had refused to undergo a DNA test, hence the fact that they resorted to hiring four private detectives to obtain the drinking straw used by his daughter.

“Our client and Elettra Lamborghini are sisters,” the legal team told the court. “They are daughters of the same father. This should be enough to throw out the accusation of defamation because [Ms Borzone and her mother] have just told the truth.”

Mr Lamborghini is a businessman who runs the eponymous Tonino Lamborghini Ltd, a company that produces luxury goods and accessories inspired by the legendary car firm founded by his father. The company, which also has interests in hotels and resorts, is worth around €400 million, according to Italian media reports

The trial was adjourned until March.

Pictured: Tony Hall’s letter praising Bashir after Diana ‘interview of the decade’

Tony Hall praised Martin Bashir for “the interview of the decade, if not of our generation” in a newly-published note.

Bashir’s reporting forever changed the way the BBC reports on the monarchy, Lord Hall, then the head of news and current affairs at the BBC, wrote. He added that the journalist had conducted himself in “absolutely the appropriate fashion”.

The corporation has released more than 10,000 documents relating to Bashir’s infamous Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

They include a copy of the handwritten note from Lord Hall to Bashir in November 1995.

Notes from an internal meeting attended by the BBC’s senior executives state: “Alan Yentob said that Martin Bashir’s presentation had been exemplary. Others agreed. He had the skill to gain the Princess’s confidence.”

Will Wyatt, the managing director of BBC Television at the time, described the interview as “an extraordinary coup… conducted just as one would have hoped”.

Royal Marine beats submariners to take charge of Navy’s global operations

A Royal Marine has beaten submariners to take charge of the Navy’s global operations for the first time.

Brig Rich Cantrill will take on the role later this year, in which he will oversee the protection of home waters, as well as Navy and Marine actions and activities worldwide.

The Telegraph understands that while several submariners applied for the role, Brig Cantrill, 49, who is currently Assistant Chief of Staff overseeing operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, north-west London, was considered the best candidate.

A defence source said the role of Commander Operations had changed in recent years, with the Russian submarine threats in the North Atlantic no longer the main focus. They cited the protection of shipping in the Red Sea and the UK having a permanent presence in the Pacific as being “just as relevant”, which made the job suitable for someone without previous experience as a submariner.

Brig Cantrill has held prominent posts across defence and government, notably as deputy of the Ministry of Defence’s counter-terrorism operations, a role in the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce and serving as Chief of Staff of the UK’s Amphibious Forces as they countered pirates off the Horn of Africa in 2016.

He has been in the Royal Marines for almost 30 years, notably commanding 3 Commando Brigade after roles in Plymouth-based 42 Commando, first leading Lima Company on operations in Afghanistan before taking over the unit as Commanding Officer in 2014.

Brig Cantrill said he was “absolutely delighted” to have been given the position.

He said: “For me it means a chance to return to my own service after a fascinating time in the joint domain, where I have learned a great deal about modern multi-domain operations, whilst working daily with the current Commander Operations and his team.

“The delivery of Royal Navy operations, and the maritime contribution to joint operations, are fundamental to protecting the nation and helping it to prosper.”

Russia and Ukraine trade hundreds of prisoners of war

Russia and Ukraine have traded hundreds of prisoners of war, a week after Moscow said Kyiv had shot down a plane carrying captured Ukrainian soldiers to an exchange.

The crash of a Russian military cargo plane near the border with Ukraine – which Russia said killed 65 Ukrainian PoWs – had thrown doubt on future prisoner swaps between the two sides.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said it was “obvious” Ukraine shot it down, and on Wednesday claimed Kyiv’s forces used a US Patriot system to do so.

“This has already been established by forensics,” Putin said in a televised appearance.

Despite the tension, both sides made simultaneous announcements hailing the latest agreement to free more than 400 people captured during the course of the two-year war.

Russia’s defence ministry said 195 of its soldiers were freed, while Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said 207 people – both soldiers and civilians – had returned to Ukraine.

“Our people are back – 207 of them. We return them home no matter what,” Mr Zelensky said in a social media post.

Russia’s defence ministry said that “195 Russian servicemen… were returned home”.

The exchange was brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has played a role in previous swaps, Moscow said.

Ukraine said the youngest soldier returning home was 20, while the oldest was 61.

The freed Ukrainians include those who fought in Mariupol and on Snake Island, a scrubby rock in the Black Sea that secured fame when troops stationed there issued an expletive-laden radio message to Russian attackers.

The announcement of the swap – in a flurry of statements and photos released simultaneously by Moscow and Kyiv – contrasted with the rhetoric surrounding last week’s crash.

‘Playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners’

Mr Zelensky has accused Moscow of “playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners”, while Moscow says Ukraine committed a “terrorist act”.

Uncertainty remains after the Russian plane crashed in a fireball in the western Belgorod region on Jan 24.

Moscow says it was ferrying 65 Ukrainian PoWs on the way to a scheduled exchange.

Putin claimed last week Kyiv knew dozens of its soldiers could have been on board, an accusation Ukraine has rejected.

Ukraine has not denied Moscow’s version of events but questioned whether captured Ukrainian soldiers were on board and said Moscow never told it in advance that PoWs would be flown near the border.

Officials in Kyiv have called for Moscow to publish photos of the dead PoWs’ bodies or provide other evidence to back up its claims.

Wednesday’s exchange – which took place a week after the plane was shot down – was the 50th swap between the two sides since Russia invaded in February 2022, Kyiv said.

Ukraine said more than 3,000 PoWs had now been returned. A similar number of Russians have also been freed, with most exchanges based on a one-for-one format.

Thousands who have been captured or surrendered throughout the near two-year war are thought to still be in captivity.

On the battlefield, both sides reported ongoing fights for territory across the sprawling frontline.

Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesman for Ukraine’s army, said forces were “firmly on the defensive” in the eastern Donetsk region.

“The enemy has not stopped trying to surround Avdiivka,” he said in an interview with state TV.

Russian forces have been trying to capture the strategic town – which Ukrainians see as a symbol of resistance – for months.

On Wednesday, Putin appeared to confirm Russia was moving in on the town, claiming Moscow’s troops had captured 19 houses on its outskirts.

Its forces fired a barrage of drones and missiles across Ukraine overnight in another round of aerial bombardment.

On the diplomatic front, Kyiv is hoping for a breakthrough this week over unlocking €50 billion (£42.6 billion) of aid from the EU.

EU leaders will meet on Thursday to discuss support for Kyiv, hoping to reach a final agreement over a four-year financial aid package that was blocked by Hungary last year.

Russell Brand describes rape claims as ‘painful, hurtful attack’ in Tucker Carlson interview

Russell Brand has described rape allegations made against him as a “painful, hurtful attack” as he praised conspiracy theorists in an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Brand, 48, appeared in an interview with Carlson, the former Fox News host, in a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday night.

Mr Carlson was taken off air in April after Fox Corp settled a $787.5 million (£618.5 million) defamation lawsuit. The exact reason for his departure is not yet known.

Brand has been questioned by Scotland Yard detectives in relation to nine historic sex offence allegations. In September last year, he was accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse against several different women.

Police launched an investigation into Brand after receiving a complaint from a woman following a joint investigation by The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches. There have been no arrests, and Brand has denied any wrongdoing.

In the interview with Carlson, Brand doubled down on his denials of the allegations against him. He said: “Of course I deny any allegations… that have been advanced. I reject the allegations in the strongest possible terms.

“I am aware that I have put myself in an extremely vulnerable position by being very, very promiscuous. That is not the kind of conduct that I endorse and it is certainly not how I would live now.”

He said: “To be accused of what I consider to be the most appalling crimes is very very painful and very hurtful. But I am being shown that there is a cost and there are consequences for the rather foolish way I lived in the past.

“Though of course to reiterate I deny any allegations of the kind that have been advanced,” Brand added.

Brand claimed his 12-week-old son was undergoing heart surgery while the ITV documentary was aired and said realising the importance of family helped him through that difficult time. “I mention my son because throughout it I was able to maintain what is really important in life,” he said.

Brand praises conspiracy theorists

Brand then began talking about David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who claims he is the son of God and that reptiles run the world. Icke has been deplatformed for spreading misinformation.

His views were described by Brand as “marginal” and “difficult to corroborate”, before Brand praised him for being “ahead of the curve” in recognising existential global issues.

He said: “It terrifies me to contemplate that people like Alex Jones and in our country, David Icke, appear to have been ahead of the curve.”

Brand said it was “extraordinary” that Jones, an American conspiracy theorist, and Icke had been talking about “globalisation” and “authoritarianism” for three decades.

Icke has faced allegations of holocaust denial after publishing a book titled And the Truth Shall Set You Free in 1995, in which he claimed prominent Jewish families “helped finance Adolf Hitler”.

Brand and Icke have known each other for around 20 years.

Jones is well known for his denials concerning the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting which saw 20 children killed. He was also criticised for hosting guests such as Kanye West on his podcast InfoWars, where the rapper admitted he “liked Hitler”.

Crossbow intruder shot dead by police at woman’s home was heavy cannabis user who had stalked her

A man shot dead by police in south London after breaking into a woman’s home with an arsenal of weapons was a reclusive cannabis smoker who had been spared jail for stalking her last year, The Telegraph can disclose.

Bryce Hodgson, 30, originally from Middlesbrough, was killed by armed officers in Southwark on Tuesday morning when he tried to force his way into a property while armed with crossbows, a knife, a hatchet, a sword and body armour.

It has since emerged Hodgson had been convicted of stalking the 31-year-old woman in Southwark last June and was subject to a five-year restraining order.

Hodgson had been banned from entering Bywater Place, the cul-de-sac where he was shot twice by officers.

Croydon magistrates’ court heard last year how Hodgson had entered the victim’s bedroom without consent, sent text messages demanding she open her door to him and described his “vivid sexual fantasies” to her.

He pleaded guilty but was spared jail, with a 16-week suspended prison sentence, and ordered to undergo 12 months of supervision and carry out 120 hours of community service.

Hodgson was a heavy cannabis user who smoked 7g of marijuana a week and spent most of his free time in front of his computer, according to a former flatmate.

Mia Trutwein, a building manager from Birmingham, lived with Hodgson for two years in a three-person flat in Bermondsey until a month before the first Covid lockdown.

She said: “He was a lovely guy, he was as timid as anything, a bit of a boffin.

“He did not have any sort of animosity, he used to go to work and come home. It took me a while to get to know him.

“He was really introverted, sweet and pleasant, he was really precious. I saw him every day for two years.

“He did not have any girls around, he never had any girlfriends. He said he used to work for a debt collection agency.

“He smoked weed quite heavily, through a bong, it would go straight to the brain, he would be buying a quarter of an ounce every week.”

Ms Trutwein said Hodgson was a “highly eloquent and intelligent” loner who spent much of his free time playing shooting games on his computer, which had three monitors attached.

The only time he would leave his bedroom would be to use the bathroom or for food, she added, saying: “We used to try and pry him out.”

Hodgson is believed to have been a student at Aberystwyth University who moved around between Manchester and Leeds before settling in south London around 2018.

Prosecutors argued for jail sentence

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Wednesday that it had tried to convince the judiciary to impose a jail sentence on Hodgson for his stalking conviction.

A CPS spokesman said: “We argued for this offence to be tried in the Crown Court and for a custodial sentence to be imposed – however these decisions are for the independent judiciary. The defendant did not breach his bail conditions.”

It is understood that the case was settled at magistrates court level because Hodgson pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

A spokesman for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the police watchdog, which investigates all firearms incidents, confirmed crossbows, a sword, a knife and body armour had been recovered from the scene on Tuesday morning.

Mel Palmer, the IOPC regional director, said: “Our thoughts are with all of those affected by this tragic incident. The man’s next of kin have been informed and, in due course, we will be contacting them to explain our role. We will keep them regularly updated throughout our investigation.

“Given that a man has died after being shot by police, our role is to independently investigate all of the circumstances surrounding this incident, including the actions and decisions taken by the police.

“We appreciate that the community will want answers quickly, and our investigators are working hard to establish the facts and piece together what occurred.”