Downing Street has admitted the former minister – who resigned last month after he was caught kissing his aide at work – used his personal account for official business.
Campaigners at the Good Law Project asked the government to check his use of private emails so there would be transparency about the awarding of Covid contracts.
But the government has rejected the request, arguing that examining private emails was “neither necessary nor proportionate”.
“Well, this is all rather convenient,” said the Good Law Project’s director Jo Maugham. “It’s clear that Hancock used their private email addresses for official business. But government lawyers still won’t search those emails. Afraid of what they might find?”
Labour also condemned the government’s decision. “This is exactly why ministers use private emails – to avoid scrutiny and accountability,” said the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner.
“The government has already admitted that ministers have been using private emails to conduct official government business. This stinks of yet another dodgy cover-up.”
The Good Law Project had asked the government to examine the private emails of Mr Hancock, health minister Lord Bethell, international trade minister Greg Hands and former Treasury minister Lord Deighton.
But the government said a search of existing documents indicated that it was not “necessary to search the private emails of the four named individuals”.
Separately however, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an inquiry into the use of private correspondence channels in Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It follows reports that Mr Hancock and his colleague Lord Bethell routinely used private email accounts to discuss government business during the pandemic.
It comes as the information commissioner said an inquiry into the leak of CCTV footage that led to Mr Hancock’s departure from government is not about investigating The Sun or journalists.
Mr Hancock resigned from the cabinet after footage published by the tabloid newspaper showed him kissing aide Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office – in breach of Covid rules.
The ICO has faced criticism over a raid on two homes in the south of England where it seized computer equipment, as it probes an alleged data breach relating to the incident. The Sun called the raids an “outrageous abuse” that could deter whistleblowers.
But information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the regulator has a “statutory responsibility” to investigate reports of a data breach. “I’m also passionate about free journalism, the importance of an independent press and I’m also passionate about whistleblowers,” Ms Denham said.
“But whistleblowers and the public interest turns on us establishing the facts in this case, so it’s important that we go in and we look at the facts and only then will we make a determination as to whether this data breach was in the public interest.”
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