Furious Matt Hancock threatens to sue Daily Telegraph over 'outrageous' Covid lockdown claims
Published: 01/03/2023- 03:28
Updated: 01/03/2023- 12:55
Matt Hancock has threatened to sue the Daily Telegraph newspaper over claims he rejected advice to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes during the peak of the pandemic.
The paper published a detailed investigation, based on more than 100,000 WhatsApps, claiming chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
But the messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters” and instead introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.
Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.
But the MP denied the “distorted account” with a spokesman alleging the messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on his Pandemic Diaries memoir have been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the former health secretary is “considering all options” in response to the leak.
“She’s broken a legal NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Her behaviour is outrageous," the spokesman said.
“Having not been approached in advance by the Telegraph, we have reviewed the messages overnight.
“The Telegraph intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp. This is critical, because Matt was supportive of Chris Whitty’s advice, held a meeting on its deliverability, told it wasn’t deliverable, and insisted on testing all those who came from hospitals.
“The Telegraph have been informed that their headline is wrong, and Matt is considering all options available to him.
“This major error by Isabel Oakeshott and the Telegraph shows why the proper place for analysis like this is the Inquiry, not a partial, agenda-driven leak of confidential documents.”
Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty during the height of the pandemic
The “lockdown files” investigation also contains claims that 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.
Ms Oakeshott, who has described lockdowns as an “unmitigated disaster”, said she was releasing the messages because it would take “many years” before the end of the official Covid inquiry, which she claimed could be a “colossal whitewash”.
“That’s why I’ve decided to release this sensational cache of private communications – because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers,” she said.
In one message, Mr Hancock said Sir Chris had finished a review and recommended “testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result”.
Isabel Oakeshott leaked the WhatsApp messages
Mr Hancock described it as “obviously a good positive step”.
However, the investigation said he later responded to an aide: “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test & isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”
The spokesman for Mr Hancock said “the Telegraph story is wrong”, arguing that “instead of spinning and leaks we need the full, comprehensive inquiry”.
“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 spokesman said.“The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available.
“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.”
As he battled to meet his own target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day, the investigation shows Mr Hancock texted his former boss Mr Osborne to “call in a favour”.
Mr Hancock said he has thousands of spare testing slots which is “obvs good news about spread of virus” but “hard for my target” as he asked for front page coverage.
Mr Osborne responded: “Yes – of course – all you need to do tomorrow is give some exclusive words to the Standard and I’ll tell the team to splash it.
”The then health secretary later added: “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”