FM says leak clearly from sacked minister's phone

It was "clear" that leaked texts which revealed the first minister told a pandemic-era group chat he was deleting messages came from the phone of a minister he sacked, Vaughan Gething has said.

The first minister has defended his decision to dismiss Hannah Blythyn after she broke her silence and criticised him publicly on Tuesday, telling MSs the evidence had been "straightforward".

He said he had put the "interests of the country" ahead of himself in sacking her.

Ms Blythyn repeatedly shook her head and looked upset as Mr Gething delivered his statement to a tense and sombre session of the Welsh Parliament.

The first minister declined to offer any further evidence for the sacking of the minister for social partnership, unless everyone potentially named in the messages agreed.

Mr Gething was asked to come to the Senedd on Wednesday by the Welsh Conservatives to respond to Ms Blythyn's personal statement from the day before.

The MS for Delyn had denied leaking to the media, and said she was not shown any evidence before she was sacked, was not told she was being investigated, and that the situation left her with acute anxiety and stress.

The message, originally published by the Nation.Cymru website, showed that Mr Gething had told a group of ministers that he was deleting messages from the group.

It had led to questions about whether he had misled the Covid inquiry.

Mr Gething told the Senedd it was "vital for the function of government that ministers have trust in each other at all times, and that private discussions remain private".

He said the government had received a "photograph of a fragment of an iMessage chat from a journalist and were asked to comment on its content".

"It was from one group chat set up for one day in August 2020 with 11 Welsh Labour ministers and deputy ministers as members.

"I spoke to my cabinet after the messages were leaked, and there was the consensus of the trust of ministers had been breached.

"Having cross-checked the photograph with a full set of messages, it became clear that the photograph could only have been from one member's phone."

Mr Gething told the Senedd he spoke to her face-to-face on 16 May and asked her to leave the government. He said a further meeting to go through the evidence was arranged for 24 May.

"Unfortunately, and understandably, Hannah was not able to attend as she had been signed off," he said.

Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, asked Mr Gething if he would make public the evidence that he had based his decision on.

Mr Gething said: "I don't intend to publish any further information. As I've made clear on more than one occasion there's a need to think about the interests of other people. I won't publish the information unless every person involved is content for that to happen."

'Clear, upfront and honest'

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru leader, put it to the first minister that "failing to act with absolute transparency on this continues to undermine faith in his leadership".

Mr Gething said he had "been clear, upfront and honest throughout".

"Having set out the straightforward nature you are then left with an inescapable choice to be made.

"It really does put the government and the interests of the country ahead of my own personal interests.

"It would have been much easier if I had simply asked other people to get on with it and act as if there wasn't the challenge that plainly was there.

"I don't think I'd have been doing my job if I hadn't addressed the issue that really was a very active concern amongst ministers and beyond."

The Welsh Conservatives said they would table a motion for debate to try to compel Mr Gething to publish the evidence used to sack Ms Blythyn

“The first minister expects us to take his word for it that he had evidence to sack Hannah Blythyn but, sadly, thanks to his behaviour in office, the people of Wales cannot take his word for it," Andrew RT Davies said.