All hell has broken loose after Isabel Oakeshott, TV pundit and journalist, leaked more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages given to her by Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, which were sent between him and his colleagues, during the pandemic, to the Daily Telegraph.
Billed dramatically in today’s Telegraph as The Lockdown Files, Ms Oakeshott, an early lockdown sceptic, says she gave the cache of messages to the Telegraph because they are essential for the national public interest. In her 2,000 word essay in the newspaper defending her decision to leak the private chat messages, Oakeshott claims she did so because: “We may have to wait many years before [the inquiry] reaches any conclusions. That’s why I’ve decided to release this sensational cache of private communications – because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers.” She goes on to say that the main problem with the inquiry is that it is “mired in a secrecy row as lawyers busy themselves redacting civil servants’ names from thousands of documents”. She added: “By the time all those being paid vast sums of taxpayers’ money to protect reputations have finished, it is hard not to imagine the whole thing may become a colossal whitewash.”
Yet Ms Oakeshott is understood to have signed an NDA with Hancock, with whom she co-authored his book – Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle against Covid – so appears to have breached their own agreement.
Whether she is the hero or villain is too early to say. But one thing’s for sure, Hancock is not a happy bunny. A spokesman for the “I’m a Celebrity Star“ says he is “pushing back hard” on the accusations – which suggest he went against the advice of Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, to test all residents going into English care homes in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Indeed, his team claims the WhatsApp leaks are a “distorted account” that is “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”. He is now considering whether to take legal action.
Central to the Lockdown Files is The Telegraph claim that Whitty told Hancock in April 2020 that there should be testing for “all going into care homes and segregation whilst awaiting result”. However, it’s suggested the then health secretary instead chose to test only those being admitted to care homes from hospital, saying that testing everyone at that stage “muddies the waters”.
Those defending Hancock say that the messages have been taken out of context, and whether the government was right to not test everyone going into care homes is one of those cases where it is not possible to answer in black and white. At that stage, there were also not enough tests to go around. There is also some confusion about whether Hancock wanted all care home residents to be tested or to only test those who were coming from hospital. According to Team Hancock, the former health secretary did insist on testing all those coming from hospital, but only after he was told it was not possible to test all of those coming from elsewhere into the care homes.
Indeed, Team Hancock is now also said to be considering taking action against the Telegraph, accusing the newspaper of “a partial, agenda-driven leak of confidential documents” . What the leak does show is that the Covid inquiry needs to get its act together fast before any more waters are muddied.
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