NICOLA Sturgeon has responded to allegations in the Unionist media that she had purchased a “burner phone” early in the pandemic.

The former first minister was asked about reports that both her and former health secretary Jeane Freeman had purchased cheap mobile phones as she gave evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

The SNP had already dismissed the story as “truly desperate stuff” and explained that the phones were purchased to allow constituency staff to work from home.

Jamie Dawson KC, quizzing Sturgeon at the Covid Inquiry, said: “On March 19 [2020] you purchased a phone and a number of SIM top ups, and the article also suggests that you purchased a second prepaid phone between 2020 and 2021. It's based on your expenses claims, I think, and the amounts are there.

“Did you purchase those phones, and why did you?”

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The former SNP leader responded: “They were purchased certainly through my expenses, on my authority. I didn't personally purchase them. They were also not for use by me.

“Many MSPs, I believe, did the same when the pandemic started and my constituency office staff could no longer work …”

Dawson interrupted to say that if the phones were not used in the Covid response the inquiry had “no interest” in their use.

Sturgeon went on: “They were the phones that my constituency office landline were diverted to in the homes of my constituency office staff.

“I have never to the best of my knowledge, seen, held and certainly not used any of these phones.”

Earlier, Sturgeon had told the Covid Inquiry that she used a personal phone to conduct government business.

She said she used a personal phone because she did not want to use multiple devices, due to the risks associated with losing a phone.

Dawson put it to her if it was appropriate to do that not on a government-issued phone. Sturgeon said it had never been suggested to her that it was not appropriate.

The former first minister also said she had deleted her WhatsApp messages.

She told the inquiry that it was “not my style and it’s never been my practice” to use WhatsApp “because it’s not a helpful process in reaching decisions”.

Sturgeon told the inquiry: “I operated from 2007, based on advice, the policy that messages, business, relating to government should not be kept on a phone that could be lost or stolen and insecure in that way, but properly recorded through the system.

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“I would want to again underline that communication was extremely limited and would not relate it to matters of substantive government decision-making.”

Sturgeon also said she was not “particularly conscious” of WhatsApp groups where officials were exchanging information.

She said she had “never seen messages before” in which Ken Thomson reminded civil servants in the group chat where the “clear chat” function could be found and that “plausible deniability is my middle name”.

Sturgeon said she saw the discussion as “light-hearted” and that she would read that as him reminding people to be professional on WhatsApp.

She added that the civil servants in the Covid outbreak group chat were public servants of the “utmost integrity”.