COVID inquiry: 8 jaw-dropping claims against Matt Hancock so far

The now independent MP was health secretary during the coronavirus pandemic and at the heart of a number key government decisions during that time.

Former British Health Secretary Matt Hancock poses in the House of Commons Members' Lobby ahead of the State Opening of Parliament at the Houses of Parliament in London on November 7, 2023. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP) (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Former health secretary Matt Hancock is set to give evidence to the COVID inquiry. (AFP via Getty Images)

Former health secretary Matt Hancock is today expected to contest accusations made about his performance as health secretary during the COVID pandemic.

Hancock will face hours of questioning by the COVID Inquiry, which has been set up to examine the UK's response to and impact of coronavirus.

The former Tory MP, who lost the party whip for appearing on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity reality TV show, played a key role in the UK’s pandemic response.

However, he has been the subject of much criticism during the past few days of the inquiry with a number of senior figures expressing concern about his performance as health secretary:

Yahoo looks at some of the key comments so far:

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Hancock 'knew tiers wouldn't work'

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham claimed that Hancock knew Tier 3 restrictions would not work in the city and its surrounding areas when he imposed them.

Burnham accused the government of administering a “punishment beating” for the city in late 2020, following an argument over financial support for residents who were unable to work due to the restrictions.

Quoting from written evidence from Hancock, Burnham told the inquiry: “He says in his evidence about Tier 3, ‘I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.’”

Hancock 'said things that weren't true'

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser from 2018 to 2023, said about Hancock: “I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically, too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later."

When asked if this meant he “said things that weren’t true”, Vallance answered: “Yes.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Former Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance arrives before his appearance at the Covid Inquiry on November 20, 2023 in London, England. The UK's Government Chief Scientific Adviser will be questioned at phase 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry over decision-making in Downing Street during the pandemic. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Former chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance arrives at the COVID Inquiry in London. (Getty Images)

Hancock signed off legislation at last moment

Police had to put off enforcing new coronavirus laws because they only received the legislation signed off by Hancock 16 minutes before it was supposed to come into force, the inquiry heard.

Martin Hewitt, the former chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “We received the regulations signed off by the secretary of state for health and social care at 11.45. So we had precisely 16 minutes."

Most senior civil servant wanted Hancock sacked

Lord Mark Sedwill, the country's most senior civil servant, wanted Hancock to be sacked as health secretary, the inquiry heard.

The former cabinet secretary said he did not formally advise Boris Johnson to sack Hancock but the prime minister would have been “under no illusions” about his feelings.

The inquiry heard that in one WhatsApp exchange with the permanent secretary at No 10, Simon Case – who is the current cabinet secretary – Sedwill joked it was necessary to remove Hancock to “save lives and protect the NHS”.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 27, 2023: Former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (2018-2021) Matt Hancock MP leaves Dorland House after giving evidence to the COVID Inquiry in London, United Kingdom on June 27, 2023. The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, has been set up to examine the UK's response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic with lawmakers facing questions over government's decision-making and their impact on the UK's pandemic preparedness. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Former health secretary Matt Hancock has been criticised by a number of witnesses in the COVID inquiry. (Getty Images)

Hancock wanted to 'decide who should live and who should die'

Lord Simon Stevens, the former head of NHS England, said Hancock wanted to "decide who should live and who should die" if hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID patients, the inquiry heard.

He said: “The secretary of state for health and social care took the position that in this situation he – rather than, say, the medical profession or the public – should ultimately decide who should live and who should die. Fortunately, this horrible dilemma never crystallised.”

Hancock displayed 'nuclear levels' of overconfidence

Helen MacNamara, who served as deputy cabinet secretary, claimed in her evidence that Hancock displayed “nuclear levels” of overconfidence.

She said she witnessed a “jarring” episode where he adopted a cricket batsman’s stance in Downing Street.

He said, “They bowl them at me, I knock them away,” according to her evidence.

Hancock 'killed people' as health secretary

Former top Downing Street advisor Dominic Cummings claimed Hancock had "killed people" as health secretary during the pandemic, according to WhatsApp messages shared with the COVID inquiry.

In one message sent in May 2020, Cummings wrote to then prime minister Boris Johnson: “You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There’s no way the guy can stay.

"He’s lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it."

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 31: Dominic Cummings, former adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arrives at Dorland House to give evidence to the COVID Inquiry in London, United Kingdom on October 31, 2023. The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, has been set up to examine the UK's response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic with Module 2 focused on core political and administrative decision-making by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet between early January 2020 and February 2022. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Dominic Cummings, former adviser to the prime minister Boris Johnson, arrives to give evidence to the COVID Inquiry. (Getty Images)

What power does the inquiry have?

Under the powers of the Inquiries Act 2005, inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett has the power to compel documents and call witnesses to give evidence under oath.

Anyone who conceals a relevant document or prevents it from being given to the inquiry can be fined or imprisoned, with a maximum term of 51 weeks.

She is supported by a team of lawyers and civil servants, led by the inquiry counsel, solicitor and secretary.

The inquiry is divided into modules examining different aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. Four modules have so far been opened, covering: resilience and preparedness; core UK decision-making and political governance; the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare system and vaccines and therapeutics.

More modules will be opening in the coming months, covering issues such as PPE, test and trace and health inequalities.

The hearing are predicted to continue until 2026, although interim reports are expected to be published before then.

Watch: Chris Whitty tells inquiry that first COVID lockdown was 'too late'