‘Massive betrayal’: Matt Hancock hits out at Isabel Oakeshott in first statement since WhatsApp leak

‘I’m not going to get involved in a slanging match with Matt Hancock’, says journalist who leaked messages

Martha McHardy
Thursday 02 March 2023 09:25 GMT
Isabel Oakeshott responds to Matt Hancock after leaking lockdown WhatsApps

Matt Hancock has broken his silence after Whatsapp messages were leaked to the Daily Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Ms Oakeshott is the journalist behind the leak of more than 100,000 of Mr Hancock’s Whatsapp messages. She today claimed the former health secretary sent her ‘menacing message‘ after they were published.

The TalkTV presenter, who was given the WhatsApp exchanges by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on a book about the pandemic, claimed that the former health secretary sent her the message in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Matt Hancock said he is the victim of a “massive betrayal and breach of trust” after the disclosure of WhatsApp messages revealing the inside working of government during the coronavirus crisis (PA) (PA Wire)

She told The BBC Mr Hancock messaged her at 1.20am in the morning, adding: “It wasn’t a pleasant message.”

The former health secretary has denied the allegation. In a brief statement, Mr Hancock said: “This is not true.”

Mr Hancock responded further on Thursday morning by saying he is “hugely disappointed” by what he said was a “massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott”.

In a statement, Mr 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.”

Reacting to the latest statement from Matt Hancock, Ms Oakeshott called his comments “ridiculous”.

Ms Oakeshott declined to withdraw the claim and told BBC Radio 4: “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.”

The former Sunday Times political editor faced questions about why she had written a book with Mr Hancock before then going on to release the WhatsApp exchanges.

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.”

The WhatsApp messages published by The Telegraph appear to show Matt Hancock rejected advice while he was health secretary to give Covid tests to all residents going into English care homes.

The Telegraph’s investigation claims chief medical officer professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.

But the messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”, and introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.

Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.

Former education secretary Gavin Williamson said teachers “really do just hate work” in a message to Matt Hancock, The Telegraph’s investigation revealed (Getty Images)

Matt Hancock has denied he rejected the advice. A spokesperson for the former minister insisted the messages had been “doctored” and “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”, and said it was “flat wrong” to say Mr Hancock had rejected such advice.

Ms Oakeshott defended breaking a non-disclosure agreement to publish the messages and said she was acting in the public interest because it could be years before the official inquiry into the pandemic concludes.

“The reality is that this inquiry, which I think is absolutely critical, will likely not come up with any conclusions, left to the government’s own devices, perhaps for at least a decade or more,” she told TalkTV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored.

Rishi Sunak has insisted the official inquiry was the right way to investigate the government’s handling of the pandemic rather than “piecemeal bits of information”.

The Telegraph’s investigation also revealed that former education secretary Gavin Williamson said teachers “really do just hate work” in a message to Matt Hancock.

Following the publication of the messages, the former education secretary tweeted that his comments had been “about some unions and not teachers”.

He added: “I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students.”

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