Former civil servant says Dominic Cummings texts to ‘handcuff her’ are ‘horrible’

Helen MacNamara said it was ‘disappointing’ that former PM Boris Johnson did not pick up Dominic Cummings on his ‘misogynistic language’

Holly Evans
Wednesday 01 November 2023 14:56 GMT
No 10 culture under Boris Johnson was 'toxic', says former top civil servant

A former senior civil servant has said the Whatsapp messages sent by Dominic Cummings were “horrible”, after he called her a “c***” in an exchange with then-prime minister Boris Johnson.

Helen MacNamara, the former deputy cabinet secretary, said the texts were “both surprising and not surprising”, and that Mr Cummings was “frustrated” with her, while she said she was just “doing my job as a civil servant”.

Referring to the then chief of staff’s comment to “personally handcuff her”, she told the Covid Inquiry: “It is disappointing to me that the prime minister did not pick him up on the use of some of that violent and misogynistic language.”

Former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara said Mr Cummings texts were ‘both surprising and not surprising’ (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA)
Former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara said Mr Cummings texts were ‘both surprising and not surprising’ (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA) (PA Media)

Ms MacNamara has become the latest pandemic-era senior official to face questions about the response to the crisis, after two days of hearings revealed the dysfunction, indecision and dithering inside Mr Johnson’s government.

In a particular bombshell moment from his testimony at yesterday’s hearing, Mr Cummings denied ever acting with “offence and misogyny” after messages criticising Ms MacNamara were read aloud.

In Whatsapp messages from 2020, Mr Cummings had written: “If I have to come back to Helen’s bullshit with PET – designed to waste huge amounts of my time so I can’t spend it on other stuff – I will personally handcuff her and escort her from the building.

“I don’t care how it’s done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c***.”

In another message, shown at the inquiry, Mr Cummings said: “We gotta get Helen out of CabOff. She’s f****** up frosty. She’s f****** up me and case. She’s trying to get spads fired and cause trouble on multiple fronts.

“Can we get her in on Monday for chat re her moving to CLG or dft. I get the distinct impression MS isn’t acting swiftly and she is trying to hang on waiting to get hooks into new CabSec and stay in there… we need her out ASAP. Building millions of lovely houses.”

He later apologised for his “appalling” language, and added that he had gotten along with Ms MacNamara on a “personal level”, but had been frustrated with Boris Johnson’s “botched” attempts to change senior civil servants in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.

She is the latest pandemic-era official to face questioning at the Covid Inquiry
She is the latest pandemic-era official to face questioning at the Covid Inquiry (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/AFP via Gett)

He told the inquiry: “Now, my language about Helen – the language is absolutely appalling and actually I got on well with Helen at a personal level – but a thousand times worse than my bad language is the underlying issue at stake that we had a Cabinet Office system that had completely melted and the prime minister had half begun the process of changing the senior management and then stopped.”

In her testimony, Ms MacNamara said the atmosphere around discussions of coronavirus in early 2020 meetings were “confident and macho”, and that she had warned Mr Johnson that the country was “heading for a disaster”.

Talking about the Government’s approach to dealing with Covid spreading through prisons, she said there was an “absence of humanity” and that decision-making had “felt very cold”.

The inquiry has already revealed that Ms MacNamara authored a report in the early period of the pandemic on the culture at the top of Government, finding that female staff were being “talked over and ignored” and “bad behaviours” were being tolerated from senior leaders.

Ms MacNamara also made headlines for providing a karaoke machine for a lockdown event in Downing Street.

She was subsequently fined by the Metropolitan Police for her part in the leaving do and issued an apology for her “error of judgment”.

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