'Bonkers' plan to release thousands of prisoners during lockdown went round Government, Hancock claims

1 December 2022, 17:59

Matt Hancock says ministers argued over a 'bonkers' plan to free thousands of prisoners
Matt Hancock says ministers argued over a 'bonkers' plan to free thousands of prisoners. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

Ministers had arguments over the possibility of freeing thousands of prisoners during the first Covid lockdown, according to explosive new claims from Matt Hancock.

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The ex-health secretary has published extracts from his upcoming book the Pandemic Diaries, which will set out the drama, failures and wins, as he views them, from his time in Government.

Among the revelations is a claim that the possibility of releasing thousands of prisoners was floated around Whitehall.

Mr Hancock, who is on a publicity blitz with his appearances on reality shows, is set to hit back at critics like Boris Johnson's ex-adviser Dominic Cummings, who savaged his performance during the pandemic.

In the first batch of extracts, Mr Hancock wrote for March 17 2020: "A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they'd be easier to manage if they're not in prison.

"Yes, really: they actually thought this might be a goer. I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.’”

Later, for April 3, he wrote: "Officials are still insisting that Justice Secretary Rob Buckland wants to release thousands of non-violent prisoners to take the pressure off the system.

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"I keep writing 'NO' in large letters on submissions asking me to sign this off. It's obvious the public won't wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.

"After about the third iteration, I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he'd been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.

"Unfortunately, this still wasn't the end of the matter. Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.

"We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release, I spluttered."

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Mr Hancock is set to set out how the pandemic played out through his eyes, taking readers from the emergence of Covid in China, and chronicling struggles with other ministers like Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak over lockdowns.

He will specifically hit back at Mr Cummings, according to the Mail, which is serialising extracts from the memoirs.

Mr Cummings said he called for Mr Hancock to be sacked during his time in Government, claiming his response to Covid was incompetent.

Mr Hancock later left Government after it emerged he had an affair with an aide, despite Covid rules about social distancing, and has since appeared on I'm A Celebrity, where he came third as he asked for forgiveness.

He is also due to appear on SAS: Who Dares Wins.