Mobile phones analysis following deleted WhatsApp messages ‘ongoing’ – O’Neill

Analysis of mobile devices used by former Stormont ministers and special advisers during the coronavirus pandemic over the deletion of messages is ongoing, Michelle O’Neill has said.

It emerged at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in London in December that some WhatsApp messages during the pandemic appear to be lost after government-issued electronic devices were wiped.

Asked about the matter during her first First Minister’s questions at Stormont, Ms O’Neill said an investigation into the matter is ongoing.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Members of the public observe the National Covid Memorial Wall, opposite the Houses of Parliament in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Ms O’Neill also said that she is “certain that policy decisions were not decided by WhatsApp, that would have been through the official channels”.

She told MLAs: “In August 2023, TEO (the Executive Office) notified the module 2C inquiry team of the potential loss of data from civil service-supplied mobile devices to ministers and spads (special advisers) that may be relevant to the terms of references for the public inquiry.

“The group head of NICS internal audit service was commissioned to undertake a fact-finding investigation into how some mobile devices returned by ministers and spads came to be reset.

“The report dated December 7 2023 was shared with module 2C legal team on December 8.

“The terms of reference for the NICS mobile device fact-finding investigation stated that if analysis of the mobile devices by an IT specialist is required to determine the status of each device and retrieve information where possible that will be undertaken as a separate exercise.

“On December 20, 2023, the head of the civil service commissioned an independent technical analysis of devices that had been allocated to former ministers and special advisors in NICS.

“The analysis of devices is ongoing and the Covid inquiry will be advised of the final outcome of that exercise.”

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