The WhatsApp messages give insight to life in the UK Government during Matt Hancock’s time as health secretary at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
Here’s what the messages show so far, how they were leaked and some of the key revelations from the leaks.
How did the Matt Hancock Whatsapp messages leak?
Mr Hancock gave the messages to journalist Isabel Oakeshott as they collaborated on his memoirs, and she subsequently handed them to the Daily Telegraph, which has published a series of stories based on the correspondence with fellow ministers and officials.
The MP is battling claims made in the newspaper’s investigation, with his allies saying the WhatsApps provide only a selective and misleading insight into ministers’ decision-making at the time.
Who is Isabel Oakeshott?
While Oakeshott has made headlines for her work recently with Matt Hancock and her decision to leak the exchanges, the freelance journalist is no stranger to headlines.
In 2015, she co-wrote a biography of David Cameron, Call Me Dave, which included the unsubstantiated claim that he had taken part in a lurid initiation ceremony involving a dead pig's head during his time at university. She also broken the 2011 story that revealed that Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne had persuaded his wife Vicky Pryce to take his speeding points.
Her work was also crucial in the resignation of the UK ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, in 2019 after she obtained emails in which he was critical of Donald Trump.
The Brexiteer also helped campaigner Arron Banks write his account of the referendum campaign entitled The Bad Boys of Brexit – with Oakeshott later publishing the emails once of Banks once the book had been published.
Starting at the East Lothian Courier before working at the Edinburgh Evening News and Dailly Record and other titles across Scotland, she became the first female political editor at the Sunday Times and is now the source behind a collection of more than 100,000 messages sent between former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers and officials at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which have been obtained by the Telegraph
Did Isabel Oakeshott sign sign a non-disclosure with Matt Hancock?
Isabel Oakeshott has defended her decision to breach the trust of the former health secretary.
The journalist had signed a non-disclosure agreement and was in turn given the WhatsApp exchanges by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on a book about the pandemic. She however admitted to breaching said agreement with Mr Hancock, arguing that her action was overwhelmingly in the “public interest”.
Did Matt Hancock send threatening message to Isabel Oakeshott?
According to Oakeshott, Matt Hancock messaged her following the breach. She told Piers Morgan on TalkTV: “I received a somewhat menacing message from him at 1.20 in the morning.
“I think he is extremely troubled about how to respond to this, but this is not about him.”
In a later interview on the subject pressed on whether a threatening message was sent, Ms Oakeshott declined to withdraw the claim
“Do you know what I’m not going to do, because it wouldn’t be pretty, is get involved in a slanging match with Matt Hancock.
“He can threaten me all he likes. There are plenty of things I can say about his behaviour, by the way, that I’m not going to do – at least not at this stage – because this is not about Matt Hancock. It is so much bigger than that.”
“I’m saying that he sent me a message at 1.20am in the morning. It wasn’t a pleasant message.”
Why did Isabel Oakeshott leak Matt Hancock messages? Was she paid?
Oakeshott has faced questions about why she had written a book with Mr Hancock before then going on to release the WhatsApp exchanges – and whether she was paid to release the messages.
She denied any suggestion she was paid by the Telegraph newspaper for the messages.
“I’m a working journalist,” she said.
“They did not pay me for the messages. 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.”
Matt Hancock statement over Whatsapp leak
In a statement, Matt Hancock said: “I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel 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.
“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.”
Matt Hanock Whatsapp leak: Key revelations from the “lockdown files” investigation
Here are some of the key claims from the Hancock leaks:
– Claims that Mr Hancock did not follow advice from chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty in April 2020 to test all residents going into English care homes. The then-health secretary told aide the move just “muddies the waters”, and introduced mandatory testing only for those coming from hospitals. Allies of Mr Hancock said a lack of testing capacity meant it was not possible to check everyone entering a care home.
– An adviser to Mr Hancock helped courier a test to senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg’s home for one of his children in September 2020 while there was a shortage.
– 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.
– Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed.
– Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was “definitely working” after she managed to secure a test “just” 50 miles from where she lived.
– Ms Whately also appeared to warn Mr Hancock in October 2020 that restrictions on care home visits were “inhumane” – but the rules remained in place for months.
– Also in October 2020, Ms Whately argued there was no “robust rationale” for including children under 12 in the rule of six, but they were not exempted until April 2021.
– Mr Hancock was involved in a bitter behind-the-scenes clash with then-education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson over whether to close schools in January 2021. The then-health secretary privately launched a “rearguard action” to ensure schools would not open widely which involved contacting the No 10 chief of staff. He got his way as schools closed days later amid a national lockdown.
– Sir Gavin appeared to accuse teachers of looking for an “excuse” not to work during the pandemic. When Mr Hancock wrote to him that teaching unions were “absolute a****s”, the then-education secretary replied: “I know they really really do just hate work.”
What has Isabel Oakeshott said?
In a written statement issued via the Daily Telegraph, Isabel Oakeshott said: “Hard though it may be for him to believe, this isn’t about Matt Hancock, or indeed any other individual politician. Nor is it about me. The greatest betrayal is of the entire country.
“We were all let down by the response to the pandemic and repeated unnecessary lockdowns. Children in particular paid a terrible price. Anyone who questioned an approach we now know was fatally flawed was utterly vilified, including highly respected and eminent
public health experts, doctors and scientists.
“So far from being protected, the NHS may never recover, as millions of patients condemned to year-long waiting lists are discovering.
Meanwhile the economy is in smithereens. It is now essential that the public inquiry, set up almost two years ago, quickly establishes deadlines for its work and answers the urgent question about whether lockdown, with all its impacts, was proportionate. These issues
must be addressed well before the next general election.
“Against this backdrop, the Telegraph expose is clearly in the overwhelming public interest.
“The outpouring of support I and the paper have had from ordinary people who suffered – and are still suffering – the consequences of the mistakes we are exposing shows how desperately the nation wants answers. I make no apology whatsoever for acting in the national interest: the worst betrayal of all would be to cover up these truths.”
Union response to ‘teachers hate work’ claim
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders union, said reported comments by Sir Gavin Williamson are “contemptible”.
It comes amid claims that, while education secretary, Sir Gavin accused teachers of looking for an “excuse” not to work during the Covid pandemic, according to the latest tranche of leaked messages from Matt Hancock published by the Daily Telegraph.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Barton condemned the reported exchange on teaching unions.
“It’s contemptible because we have to remind ourselves that this was an age of extraordinary anxiety. We hadn’t got vaccines.
“And the Government was starting to look to the teaching profession to welcome those young people back into school. It was a huge debate going on, very snarky debate about whether face coverings should or shouldn’t be worn.
“And essentially, the very people who then brought those young people back into school are being described in those snide terms by the former education secretary, in the very terms which, as somebody who’s worked in education for all these years, who wants the brightest and the best young people to want to become politicians, that is less likely this morning because of that sneering denigration of the teaching profession.”