Rishi Sunak is urgently reviewing his private exchanges with Matt Hancock today after the former health secretary’s WhatsApp account was leaked.
A Whitehall source said action was being taken after the Daily Telegraph obtained 100,000 messages exchanged during the Covid crisis.
The unprecedented leak is likely to extend to dozens of ministers and officials who worked with Mr Hancock.
He came under fire from bereaved families after messages were released suggesting he had rejected official advice to test all residents going into care homes – a claim he hotly disputes.
The messages were leaked by Isobel Oakeshott, the journalist employed as a ghostwriter for Mr Hancock’s pandemic ‘diaries’.
Rishi Sunak is urgently reviewing his private exchanges with Matt Hancock today after the former health secretary’s WhatsApp account was leaked. A Whitehall source said action was being taken after the Daily Telegraph obtained 100,000 messages exchanged during the Covid crisis
The unprecedented leak is likely to extend to dozens of ministers and officials who worked with Mr Hancock
Friends of the politician today said he was considering legal action to prevent the further disclosure of messages he considered ‘stolen’.
A spokesman said: ‘She’s broken a legal non-disclosure agreement. Her behaviour is outrageous.’
Downing Street suggested the information commissioner could investigate whether the leak breached data protection laws. Mr Hancock was also facing questions about why he had entrusted the sensitive material to Miss Oakeshott, who opposed Covid lockdowns.
A Whitehall source described the decision as ‘staggering’, adding: ‘Why would you hand all of your messages to someone who has a track record of turning people over and who was bitterly opposed to the policies you were responsible for?
‘It was idiotic and it was lazy – it looks like he just couldn’t be bothered to do the work needed for his so-called diaries himself.
‘The worst thing is that many of them were not his messages to give. All sorts of people, some of them quite junior, are now having their private thoughts splashed across the papers. It is not right – that’s why we have laws against it.’
The Daily Telegraph today indicated it would publish exchanges between Mr Hancock and Mr Sunak, who was chancellor during the pandemic.
Downing Street confirmed Mr Sunak discussed government policy via WhatsApp. But a source said he was ‘very cautious’ about the messages he sent.
The investigation suggested England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then-health secretary in April 2020 that there should be testing for ‘all going into care homes’.
Mr Hancock described it as ‘obviously a good, positive step’.
But the exchanges, from April 2020, suggested Mr Hancock ultimately rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just ‘muddies the waters’. He introduced mandatory testing only for those coming from hospitals rather than the community.
Allies of Mr Hancock said that was because a lack of testing capacity meant it was not possible to check everyone entering a care home.
KEY CLAIMS OF THE LOCKDOWN FILES INVESTIGATION
A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s pandemic diaries claimed:
- Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
- A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’ but residents remained isolated many months on
- Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
- Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then-editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
- Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
- Then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
- Covid gurus Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance warned that shielding wasn’t ‘very effective’ at start of pandemic – yet policy affecting 2.2m Brits wasn’t dropped until April 2021
His spokesman said: ‘These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong.’
In the Commons, care minister Helen Whately told MPs that reports had failed to mention that a meeting on testing capacity – on the same day as Mr Hancock’s message – found it would be impossible to test everyone going into care homes.
She said an email was sent that day saying the department could ‘press ahead straight away’ with the testing of people being discharged from hospital into care homes and then press ahead ‘as soon as capacity allows’ with wider testing.
Jean Adamson, whose father died in a care home in April 2020, told Good Morning Britain she felt ‘sickened and disgusted’ by the revelations.
‘He was more focused on meeting his targets at the time, rather than the welfare of our most vulnerable members of society,’ she said.
‘And as a result of his decisions, his inaction, tens of thousands of elderly people died in care homes. So I just feel absolutely sickened and disgusted by these revelations.’
Miss Oakeshott defended her decision to publish the emails, saying the public deserved to know the truth now, rather than wait for a public inquiry that could take years and might result in a ‘whitewash’.
But former health minister Lord Bethel, an ally of Mr Hancock, accused her of betrayal, saying she was ‘not a good friend’.
The peer said the public deserved the full truth from the public inquiry, rather than a version based on ‘a few scrappy WhatsApps’.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: ‘It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. What the messages do show is a lot of people working hard to save lives.
‘The full documents have already all been made available to the inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment, so true lessons can be learned.’