'A massive betrayal and breach of trust': Matt Hancock apologises to colleagues over private messages leak

2 March 2023, 08:59 | Updated: 2 March 2023, 15:10

Thousands of messages have been leaked revealing the government's Covid policy during the pandemic
Thousands of messages have been leaked revealing the government's Covid policy during the pandemic. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Matt Hancock has described the leak of thousands of his WhatsApp messages on the government's Covid policy as a "massive betrayal" and apologised for the impact of the leak.

In an official statement, the former health secretary said he was "hugely disappointed" at the "breach of trust" by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist behind the massive leaks.

"I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Isabel Oakeshott," Mr Hancock said.

"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.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock
Former health secretary Matt Hancock. Picture: Getty

"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 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."

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He also Ms Oakeshott's claim that he sent her a menacing messages after the leak as "wrong".

Mr Hancock continued: "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.

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"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."

It comes after schools minister Nick Gibb told LBC WhatsApp messages sent between government ministers over Covid school policy were sent in the "heat of the moment".

Former health secretary Matt Hancock was involved in a behind-the-scenes clash with then-education secretary Gavin Williamson over moves to keep classrooms open during the Covid pandemic.

Mr Hancock battled with Sir Gavin in late December 2020 and suggested it was “mad” that he was trying to keep classrooms open.

Former Conservative party cabinet minister, Gavin Williamson
Former Conservative party cabinet minister, Gavin Williamson. Picture: Getty

He then fought against Sir Gavin to persuade the government to shut schools in January as a wave of the new Covid variant was at its height.

Messages between the pair also revealed claims from Sir Gavin that teaching unions "really really do just hate work".

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, schools minister Nick Gibb said the former education secretary "holds teachers in the highest regard".

When asked about leaked WhatsApp messages between government ministers on Covid policy, Mr Gibb said: "Those WhatsApp messages were sent in the heat of the moment.

“I think he was talking about the union but I don’t think he believes that either…I know (Gavin) holds teachers in the highest regard and so do I.

"We know how hard they work and we know how hard they worked in the pandemic. They were keeping schools open, don’t forget, for vulnerable children."