Boris Johnson has been unable to handover WhatsApp messages from his old mobile phone to the COVID inquiry because he has forgotten the password to it, according to reports.
The Times said it had been told the former prime minister could not “with 100% confidence” remember the code for the device he used up until May 2021 – and there were fears the Apple iPhone could erase the messages if the wrong digits were entered too many times.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson did not deny the claims to Sky News, instead saying government-appointed “technical experts” were continuing to work “to recover material safely from the device”.
But the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said it was a “complete joke” and Mr Johnson “needs to take full responsibility” for handing over his WhatsApp messages.
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A row erupted between the government and the COVID inquiry last month over whether ministers’ messages from during the pandemic should be handed over unredacted.
Despite launching a judicial review over claims of privacy, the Cabinet Office lost out and was given until 4pm on Monday to give the inquiry’s chair, Baroness Hallett, everything she requested – including the ex-prime minister’s WhatsApp messages, diaries and notebooks.
In an apparent swipe at his successor in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said he had never had a problem with passing on the messages, but after a well-publicised security breach in May 2021, he had switched phones and claimed to have been instructed not to switch the device back on again.
However, he promised to seek the advice of security professionals to get the information the inquiry wanted.
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His spokesperson said the phone was currently with his lawyers, adding: “As previously stated, Mr Johnson will cooperate fully with the inquiry.
“He wants to disclose any relevant material which is why he is fully cooperating with this process.”
A spokesperson for the COVID inquiry said it had “now received the materials required” from the Cabinet Office, and it was aware Mr Johnson was still in possession of his old phone.
They added he was “cooperating with the inquiry’s requests and efforts are under way to securely extract any potentially relevant content”.
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But a spokesperson for COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, Susie Flintham, said: “This is a complete joke. No one seriously believes that Johnson’s messages can’t be accessed because he forgot a passcode that he was apparently using last December.
“Johnson needs to take full responsibility for ensuring that these messages are shared in their entirety with the inquiry, and the inquiry must be prepared to take legal action against him if he doesn’t.”