Boris Johnson ‘can’t remember passcode’ to phone with Covid WhatsApp messages

Concerns over attempt to unlock former PM’s old iPhone could erase messages

Archie Mitchell
Thursday 13 July 2023 19:32 BST
Moment MPs vote in favour of Partygate report finding Johnson misled parliament

Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages from his old phone have not yet been handed to the Covid inquiry because he has forgotten the passcode, it is claimed.

The former prime minister is thought to be unable to recall the code to unlock the device thought to contain crucial Covid-era communications with ministers, which he stopped using in May 2021.

Mr Johnson cannot remember the passcode “with 100 per cent confidence”, according to The Times. The ex-Tory leader’s spokesman did not deny he could not recall the code.

There are concerns that any attempt to unlock the iPhone could lead to it being disabled, erasing its data including key WhatsApp messages from the pandemic, it reported.

But Covid bereaved campaigners described the idea as a “complete joke”, urging Mr Johnson to work with security officials to retrieve the information.

On Thursday evening the FT reported the pin has now in fact been remembered by Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson’s old mobile – said to be known as “Phone 1” in Whitehall – has proved a thorny issue ever since a series of disputes between his camp and Rishi Sunak’s government blew up earlier this year.

He was forced to turn the device off and switch to a new mobile after a security breach. It emerged his number had been freely available online for 15 years.

On Monday Mr Johnson missed a strict deadline set by the Covid inquiry to hand over all relevant material, including WhatsApp messages on the phone.

Mr Johnson’s office said his team was still working with government security officials on how best to switch on the old phone – insisting he wanted to “cooperate fully” with the inquiry.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said the phone is being held by his lawyers while government-appointed tech experts work to recover data from the device.

“As previously stated, Mr Johnson will cooperate fully with the inquiry,” the spokesman added. “He wants to disclose any relevant material which is why he is fully cooperating with this process.”

A Cabinet Office source also said the phone was still in Mr Johnson’s possession, but government officials were supporting him in trying to access the material.

Covid inquiry chair Baroness Hallett has asked for all messages

But security experts have said that information could likely be retrieved simply by taking out the sim card and putting it in another phone.

Susie Flintham, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, said the idea of the passcode holding things up was “a complete joke”.

The campaigner said: “No one seriously believes that Johnson’s messages can’t be accessed because he forgot a passcode that he was apparently using last December.”

She added: “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.”

Government solicitor Parm Sahota wrote to the inquiry last month to say the Cabinet Office “continues to work with security partners and Mr Johnson’s representatives to assess the security issues in relation to that device”.

The government had fought the request from inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett to release unredacted documents – arguing it should not have to hand over material that is “unambiguously irrelevant”.

But the argument was dismissed by High Court judges last week, who said the fact an order for material would produce “some irrelevant documents” did not “invalidate” it or mean it “cannot be lawfully exercised”.

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