An internal Government investigation is to be launched to determine CCTV footage of Matt Hancock kissing a close aide in his ministerial office emerged.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will investigate how the footage became public, as former Cabinet ministers have said they never had cameras in their offices.
- Mr Hancock was not aware that a hidden camera in his office existed, according to the Daily Telegraph.
- Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the leaked footage has “possibly” been a breach of the Official Secrets Act, adding that it was “completely unacceptable” that ministers were being filmed inside their offices.
- Think tank The Henry Jackson Society has reported the disclosure of the footage as a breach of the Official Secrets Acts (OSA) to the Metropolitan Police, but the force said it considered the leak “a matter for the relevant Government department”.
- Under the Data Protection Act 2018, business operators of CCTV must register their details with data and privacy protection regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and be able to justify its usage.
What’s been said
Downing Street refused to comment on Friday (25 June) on whether a probe will be launched following the leak of the footage, but Mr Lewis said “it’s something we need to get to the bottom of”.
Speaking on Sky News’ Trevor Philips On Sunday programme, he said: “The Department of Health will be investigating this, quite rightly, to understand how this was able to happen.
“Put aside what’s on the pictures, the fact that it was leaked at all is something they do need to investigate.
“I’m sure it’s something that the team will be looking at across Government.
“I have to say I always take the view it’s best to assume that everything you’re saying or putting in writing is going to be reported somewhere.”
Meanwhile Mr Hunt, who is chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said it is “completely unacceptable” to film ministers in their offices without their knowledge, and it is a matter that will be looked at “very carefully”.
He explained: “There’ll be issues that our intelligence agencies will want to look at very, very carefully.
“But there’s also another issue which is that ministers do need to have the ability to have frank, private conversations with their senior officials to debate things, so that they can understand issues, and know that those conversations will remain private if they’re going to be able to go through the thought processes that enable them to make the right decisions and so I think that will also be something on the minds of Government ministers today.”
Former Cabinet ministers Alan Johnson and Rory Stewart both said there had never been cameras in their offices during their time in Government.
In a tweet, Mr Stewart, who was International Development Secretary from May to July 2019, saidt: “I definitely did not know that there were cameras in any of my ministerial offices (in fact I was told – when I asked if there were any cameras – that there were not cameras in my office in DfiD).”
“If it were a departmental camera – perhaps focused on the door for security reasons – then it would be seen by the security officers.
“Someone else installing it would have some challenges – security passes, doors, access to ministerial office etc.”
Companies are obligated to inform staff that they may be recorded if CCTV is in operation, usually done through signage, and must have control over who sees the recordings.
Any footage captured should also only be used for its intended purpose.
The monitoring of staff without their knowledge is only permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as if they are suspected to be breaking the law, and can only be done as part of a specific investigation.
How was the footage leaked?
The Sun has attributed its report of Mr Hancock’s affair to whistleblowers, but it is still unclear how the footage from his office was recorded and shared.
The newspaper’s political editor Harry Cole told the BBC’s PM programme on Radio 4 that the outlet was confident of its sources, and said the images had come from “a concerned Whitehall whistleblower who thought they deserved a wider audience”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) Editors’ Code of Practice, which guides the work of the majority of Britain’s print and online news journalists, includes a clause covering the use of “clandestine devices and subterfuge”.
The clause states that the press “must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices” or “by accessing digitally-held information without consent”.
It adds that “misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means”.
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