'A Massive Betrayal Of Trust': Matt Hancock Apologises For Leaked Covid WhatsApps

The former health secretary also denied sending a 'menacing' text to journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who gave the messages to the Daily Telegraph.
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Matt Hancock has apologised for the leak of thousands of WhatsApp messages which shine a line on the government’s at-times chaotic handling of the Covid pandemic.

The former health secretary said he was “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”.

He also condemned “the massive betrayal and breach of trust” by Isabel Oakeshott, who collaborated with him on his memoirs, the Pandemic Diaries, and then handed more than 100,000 WhatsApps to the Daily Telegraph.

Hancock also denied that he had sent her a “menacing” text in the early hours of Wednesday morning, shortly after the paper broke the story.

The West Suffolk MP, who is standing down at the next election, broke his silence as he battles a series of claims over his handling of the pandemic.

Hancock 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.”

He added: “Isabel and I had worked closely together for more than a year on my book, based on legal confidentiality and a process approved by the Cabinet Office. Isabel repeatedly reiterated the importance of trust throughout, and then broke that trust.

“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.

“I will not be commenting further on any other stories or false allegations that Isabel will make.

“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.”

The leaked messages suggested Hancock rejected advice to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes, not just those moving from hospitals.

But a spokesperson for the MP — who lost the Tory whip after agreeing to appear on I’m A Celebrity — strenuously denied the claim.

He 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.”

Oakeshott has held a series of interviews following the leak, in which she defended her actions as being in the public interest.

She faced questions about why she had written a book with Hancock before then going on to release the WhatsApp exchanges.

She denied any suggestion she was paid by the Telegraph newspaper for the messages, saying she was a “working journalist”.

“They did not pay me for the messages,” she said.

“I’ve been helping the Daily Telegraph with the investigation, you’ll see that I’ve been writing stories for The Daily Telegraph.”

“Anyone who thinks I did this for money must be utterly insane. This is about the millions of people, every one of us in this country that were adversely affected by the catastrophic decisions to lock down this country repeatedly, often on the flimsiest of evidence for political reasons.”

Last night, former education secretary Gavin Williamson became embroiled in the row after the newspaper published messages in which he appeared to suggest that teachers were looking for an “excuse” not to work during the pandemic.

Williamson also told Hancock that the teaching unions “really really do just hate work”.

The WhatsApps also reveal how Williamson and Hancock clashed over the decision to close schools in a bid to slow the spread of Covid.

In May 2020, Williamson messaged Hancock asking for his help in securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools so they could not use it “as a reason not to open”.

He added: “All of them will but some will just want to say they can’t so they have an excuse to avoid having to teach, what joys!!!”

In October the same year, Hancock messaged the then education secretary to congratulate him on his decision to delay A-level exams for a few weeks.

“Cracking announcement today. What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are,” the then health secretary wrote.

Williamson responded: “I know they really really do just hate work.”

Williamson defended his actions on Twitter last night, saying he was talking about teaching unions rather than teachers themselves.

“Further to reports in the Telegraph and other outlets, I wish to clarify that these messages were about some Unions and not teachers,” he said.

“As demonstrated in the exchange, I was responding regarding unions. I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students.

“During the pandemic, teachers went above and beyond during very challenging times and very much continue to do so.”


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