Matt Hancock responds to leak of lockdown WhatsApp messages

Matt Hancock has denounced what he said was a “massive betrayal and breach of trust” following the leaking of lockdown WhatsApp messages.

The exchanges were published in The Daily Telegraph after he shared them with journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who worked with the former health secretary on his Pandemic Diaries book.

In a lengthy statement, Mr Hancock denied sending a “menacing message” to Ms Oakeshott after the publication of the first stories on Wednesday – a claim she made last night as she defended breaking a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to leak the messages.

Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott. Pic: Parsons Media
Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott. Pic: Parsons Media

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The MP said: “I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott. I am also sorry for the impact on the very many people – political colleagues, civil servants and friends – who worked hard with me to get through the pandemic and save lives.

“There is absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach. All the materials for the book have already been made available to the inquiry, which is the right, and only, place for everything to be considered properly and the right lessons to be learned. As we have seen, releasing them in this way gives a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda.”

Isabel Oakeshott
Isabel Oakeshott has insisted the messages she leaked are ‘in the public interest’

Mr Hancock also sought to clarify the nature of a late-night message he sent to the journalist, saying: “Last night, I was accused of sending menacing messages to Isabel. This is also wrong. When I heard confused rumours of a publication late on Tuesday night, I called and messaged Isabel to ask her if she had ‘any clues’ about it, and got no response. When I then saw what she’d done, I messaged to say it was ‘a big mistake’. Nothing more.”

He said he would not be commenting further on any stories “or false allegations that Isabel will make”.

Read more:
The key exchanges
‘I broke NDA, but it wasn’t personal’

“I will respond to the substance in the appropriate place, at the inquiry, so that we can properly learn all the lessons based on a full and objective understanding of what happened in the pandemic, and why,” he said.

Oakeshott ‘makes no apology whatsoever’

Responding to the statement, Ms Oakeshott has said she makes “no apology whatsoever for acting in the national interest” over her disclosure of the messages.

She said: “Hard though it may be for him to believe, this isn’t about Matt Hancock, or indeed any other individual politician. Nor is it about me. The greatest betrayal is of the entire country.”

Ms Oakeshott, an early lockdown sceptic, said the whole nation was “let down” by the response to the pandemic and “children in particular paid a terrible price”.

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“Far from being protected, the NHS may never recover, as millions of patients condemned to year-long waiting lists are discovering. Meanwhile the economy is in smithereens,” she said.

“It is now essential that the public inquiry, set up almost two years ago, quickly establishes deadlines for its work and answers the urgent question about whether lockdown, with all its impacts, was proportionate. These issues must be addressed well before the next general election.”

The journalist added that she had received an “outpouring of support” for leaking the messages which “shows how desperately the nation wants answer”.

She went on: “I make no apology whatsoever for acting in the national interest: the worst betrayal of all would be to cover up these truths.”

Read more:
The key exchanges
‘I broke NDA, but it wasn’t personal’

The first story from the tranche of messages broke in The Telegraph, alleging the former health secretary had rejected testing advice on care homes and expressed concern it could get in the way of meeting his targets.

The MP strongly denied the “distorted account”, with a spokesman claiming the conversations had been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.

Last night, new messages were published which appear to show a clash between Mr Hancock and former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson over school closures, with the latter accused of saying teachers were looking for an “excuse” not to work during the pandemic.

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Matt Hancock has denied claims that he ignored COVID-19 testing advice for care home residents while he was health secretary

Other revelations from the collection of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages show Boris Johnson was concerned he would be criticised for “blinking too soon” on ordering a second national lockdown.

The Telegraph reported that the then-prime minister made the observation a day after announcing the new restrictions in November 2020, after being warned by a scientist that the decision was based on out-of-date data.

While an official COVID inquiry is due to examine the government’s response, Ms Oakeshott said she feared its conclusion could be “decades away” – something chair of the investigation has denied.


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