By Daniel Boal, ITV News Multimedia Producer
A Scottish minister at the centre of an £11,000 roaming charge row has blamed his sons, saying they had used his official ministerial iPad to watch football while on holiday.
Speaking in Scottish Parliament, Health Secretary Michael Matheson apologised and said he had not wanted to reveal the information in a bid to protect his family.
Holding back tears, he said: “In my statement issued last Friday I made no reference to the use of data by my family."
He added: “As a parent, I wanted to protect them from being part of the political and media scrutiny associated with this, something I believe any parent would want to do.
“I am a father first and foremost – that was a mistake and I am sorry. I can see now that it just isn’t possible to explain the data usage without explaining their role.
“Presiding Officer, the simple truth is they watched football matches.”
When asked by journalists if he had been watching football, Matheson stated: “No, I didn’t watch the football. I didn’t know the football was being watched.”
He stated that he had only discovered the £10,935.74 bill after returning from his Christmas holiday in January.
The minister informed First Minister Humza Yousaf that family members had used the device on Tuesday, only telling him the full extent of the usage on Wednesday.
And, while Yousaf has been urged to sack Mr Matheson amid the growing row, he said he has “absolute confidence in Michael Matheson as the Cabinet Secretary for Health”.
In a heated exchange during First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Matheson had been “dishonest” in his claims about the data roaming charges he incurred while in Morocco over the Christmas break last year.
Asked directly by journalists afterwards if Mr Matheson will still be Health Secretary at the end of the day, Mr Yousaf replied: “Yes.”
His comments came after he said Mr Matheson, who has accepted the Sim card in his device needed updating, had made an “honest mistake” and stressed the money has been paid back to the Parliament.
Mr Ross said claims it was an honest mistake were only “50% right”, as he challenged the first minister over whether he believed the costs had resulted from parliamentary and constituency work, as Mr Matheson has said.
Data revealed by the Scottish Parliament shows in one session on January 2, Mr Matheson used 3.18GB of data, costing £7,345.689.
Mr Ross said: “It was over the Christmas break and £7,300 of that bill covered a single day, which was a public holiday.
“To put that into context, to run up those charges he would have needed to have sent 8,000 emails in that one day. That’s an email written and sent every 10 seconds continuously for 24 hours.
“All this while the Health Secretary was in Morocco on holiday."
Mr Ross added: “The evidence shows that Michael Matheson claimed £11,000 of taxpayers’ money when he knew it wasn’t for parliamentary work.
“It wasn’t just a mistake, it was dishonest.”
Mr Matheson has already said he will repay the total bill of £10,935.74, and he is also due to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament on the matter later on Thursday.
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