Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages mysteriously disappeared from Penny Mordaunt’s phone

Curious case of "missing” messages from former Prime Minister and Michael Gove

Penny Morda

The curious case of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages continues as Penny Mordaunt told the Covid Inquiry that a series of exchanges she had with the former Prime Minister vanished from her phone.

In evidence to the Inquiry revealed on Monday, Mordaunt said she became aware in May 2021 that key messages with Boris Johnson during the pandemic had gone “missing”.

For two years, the current Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt, claims she has been attempting to clarify how some specific correspondence with her and the then-PM had vanished.  

On fourteen occasions the MP said she unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a meeting to discuss the matter with Johnson’s chief of staff, before she was told it would cost £1,000 a day for six weeks to get her phone forensically examined.

However, she got a quote from a government-approved cyber security contractor for £1,000. Then, during her new role as Minister for Trade Policy she had a meeting with the Cabinet Office cyber security team, but said “they had not been properly briefed and had no suggested course of action to try and retrieve messages or to help me understand what had happened”.

In January 2023 a letter from the National Cyber Security Centre confirmed that ‘no official advice had been given to the Prime Minister to delete his messages’, which Mordaunt said was “highly significant” in further understanding the curious case.

She had initially searched for the correspondence when the media were examining the government’s handling of care homes during the pandemic. Stating that one of the messages she attempted to find was from February 2020 when she raised the issue of shielding in care homes. According to Mordaunt, Johnson had agreed that it was important and would raise it at a meeting. But the messages were no longer there when she checked months later.

Two further sets of messages between herself and Michael Gove were also discovered to have gone missing, the first about adequate resources in the role of minister for social care and the second on press coverage on a resilience document.

Mordaunt ended her evidence by stating she would be “content for my phone to be examined by the Inquiry if it is thought this would assist.”

During his grilling this month at the Inquiry, Boris Johnson attempted to explain why 5,000 WhatsApp messages on his phone at the start of the Covid pandemic had gone missing. He said it could have been “something to do with the app going down and then coming up again”.

Boris Johnson was initially issued a legal notice by the Covid Inquiry in May requesting his unredacted WhatsApp messages, official diaries and notebooks from between January 2020 and February 2022.

However the Cabinet Office then claimed it did not have Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and also argued that much of the content was “irrelevant” to the inquiry therefore shouldn’t be released.

Nearly £200,000 was spent by the Cabinet Office in an unsuccessful legal attempt to stop ministers from handing over all WhatsApp messages to the Covid Inquiry.

The Covid Inquiry public hearings are due to be complete by the summer of 2026, and the WhatsApp mystery continues.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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