Matt Hancock to have personal WhatsApp and emails searched in court battle over Covid test contracts

High Court judge orders a search of former health secretary’s messages

Joanna Taylor
Tuesday 21 September 2021 21:56

Related video: Matt Hancock heckled as he praises Boris Johnson for social care reform

Matt Hancock is to have his personal emails and WhatsApp messages searched as part of a legal battle over millions of pounds’ worth of antibody test contracts handed out during the coronavirus pandemic.

A High Court judge ordered that both the former health secretary’s government and non-government communications used for Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) business should be searched for relevant material.

The proceedings were brought against the DHSC by the Good Law Project, who claim that more than £80m in contracts were awarded unlawfully. The legal campaign group say that Abingdon Health received three contracts in April, June and August 2020 that were not published until October.

The Good Law Project also claim that the contracts were awarded secretly and directly to Abingdon Health without advertisement or competition and that they “comprise very substantial unlawful public subsidies”.

Mr Hancock has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that he was not involved in the awarding of the contracts and that they were approved through formal processes.

Petitioning the High Court to order a search of the former health secretary’s “non-government communication systems” — which is believed to include WhatsApps — Good Law Project barrister Joseph Barrett said that Mr Hancock was the “ultimate decision-maker” in awarding the contracts and that he had used multiple personal email accounts for government business.

Mr Barrett further alleged that the DHSC had “either destroyed or otherwise put beyond recovery or refused to search or disclose almost all of the repositories and documents of the four most senior and important individuals in the case”.

Philip Moser QC, for the DHSC, which is contesting the claim, argued that Mr Hancock’s role in awarding the contracts was “limited”.

“There is no reasonable basis on which to seek such disclosure, because Mr Hancock’s involvement in the matters which are in issue in these proceedings was limited and, in any event, any communications from the then Secretary of State would have been caught by the existing disclosure exercise,” he said.

Ordering the search to take place, Mr Justice Fraser said: “It seems to me that even though his involvement has been described as ‘limited’, ‘limited’ can still be quite significant.”

The full trial is due to take place from 6 December.

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