Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages are yet to be received by the Covid inquiry because he is said to have forgotten the passcode for his old phone.
The former prime minister’s spokesperson said Johnson still wants to cooperate with the inquiry and did not deny being unable to recall the code.
Johnson stopped using the device in May 2021, after receiving security advice once it had emerged his phone number had been accessible online for at least 15 years.
Bereaved families and technical experts have rubbished Johnson’s excuse for not being able to send the messages to the inquiry, with experts noting the former prime minister would still be able to access his messages as long as his WhatsApp is backed up.
The government handed over the rest of Johnson’s unredacted notebooks, WhatsApp messages and diaries from his time in Downing Street to the inquiry after efforts to prevent their release failed.
It had fought the request from the inquiry chair, Lady Hallett, to release them, arguing it should not have to hand over material that was “unambiguously irrelevant”. The argument was dismissed by the high court last week and the Cabinet Office was given until 4pm on Monday to comply with its ruling to pass on the documents.
Government officials were continuing to try to retrieve the WhatsApp messages, being held by Johnson’s lawyers, according to the Times, who said they feared that the contents of the device could be deleted if the wrong combination of numbers was entered.
Andrew Whaley, a senior technical director at the cybersecurity company Promon, said: “This is a pretty lame excuse. Provided Boris’s WhatsApp is backed up, accessing the data would take minutes.
“This is likely not a case of Johnson being unable to access his phone, but rather a tactic to try to further evade the release of messages relevant to the inquiry.”
However, on Thursday night an ally of Johnson suggested the government had recovered a passcode to unlock the former prime minister’s old handset.
The ally, who was not named, told the PA news agency: “It is not true that Boris does not remember his pin number, it is just that he does not have 100% confidence he remembers it.
“Separately, the government has found its own version of the pin.”
Johnson’s spokesperson said: “The phone is in the possession of Mr Johnson’s lawyers. The government’s own appointed technical experts continue to work to recover material safely from the device.
“As previously stated, Mr Johnson will cooperate fully with the inquiry. He wants to disclose any relevant material which is why he is fully co-operating with this process.”
Susie Flintham, the spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, 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.”