Covid-19 Inquiry: Senior Welsh Government adviser admits deleting WhatsApp messages during pandemic

Jane Runeckles, a special adviser for the Welsh Government, was speaking in Cardiff at the Covid-19 Inquiry Credit: Covid Inquiry

A senior government official has admitted to setting WhatsApp messages to automatically delete during the pandemic against Welsh Government advice, an inquiry has heard.

Jane Runeckles, a special adviser for the Welsh Government, was speaking in Cardiff at the Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday, 7 March.

She admitted to using the “disappearing messages” function on the messaging app during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jane Runeckles was sworn in at the inquiry in Cardiff Credit: Covid Inquiry

Ms Runeckles has worked for the Government for almost 20 years and is the most senior adviser to the First Minister Mark Drakeford.

She ultimately accepted she was using the technology “wrongly”. Welsh Government guidance said that personal WhatsApp accounts should not be used and that using messaging tools was creating "public records."

When asked if she was aware that using WhatsApp for decision-making was prohibited, Ms Runeckles said she “knew that [she] was not in a position to use [her] personal phone for Welsh Government formal decision-making”.

However, she argued that the groups were only used for "admin purposes and for team morale".

Lady Hallett, the chair of the inquiry asked: "Isn’t using your personal phone for admin purposes using it for Welsh Government business?

"So, you were using it wrongly?"

Ms Runeckles replied: "Yes."

Jane Runeckles admitted that being a member of three WhatsApp groups broke Welsh Government rules Credit: Covid Inquiry

When asked why she used disappearing messages, the special advisor told the inquiry that she did not believe there was any evidence of decision-making in the groups.

She added that "it would be very useful for people who hold the kind of role that I hold in the future for there to be some clear recommendations about this".

An earlier hearing was told that special advisers reminded themselves and others that they had agreed "to clear out WhatsApp chat once a week".

It has not been made clear by the inquiry who said this and Ms Runckles was not questioned about the advice.

The inquiry is set to continue next week where Vaughan Gething, who was health minister at the time, Mark Drakeford, and Eluned Morgan are among those set to give evidence.

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