Leaks offer ‘view into psyche of Hancock’, not Government workings – minister

Leaks offer ‘view into psyche of Hancock’, not Government workings – minister

The leaked messages of Matt Hancock reveal a “view into the psyche” of the former health secretary as opposed to the workings of Government during the pandemic, a minister has said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris insisted the trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages being shared in the Telegraph’s lockdown files is not the full picture of what happened at the heart of the British Government during 2020 and 2021.

He also downplayed the gallows humour and stark admissions within the messages, suggesting they show politicians “being human beings”.

The latest stories in the Telegraph’s reporting suggest Mr Hancock wanted to “frighten the pants off everyone” in order to inspire compliance with lockdown measures among the public.

Mr Heaton-Harris denied that was the Government’s strategy.

“I think the Government strategy was to try and protect the British public as best it possibly could… and to try and give as much information as it possibly could at the right times.”

The former health secretary was also reportedly irked by the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, now Lord Stevens, during the pandemic and even said ousting him would be a “massive improvement”.

Previous revelations from the hoard of messages include Mr Hancock and Rishi Sunak’s shared belief that former special adviser Dominic Cummings’s time in Downing Street was a “nightmare”.

Asked about the evolving story portrayed in the messages, Mr Heaton-Harris told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “It really is a partial account of what was going on and almost a view into the psyche of Matt Hancock rather than into the actual decision-making.”

Asked if he was comfortable with the tone of conversation revealed in the messages, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I think viewers would expect that politicians being human beings would express things in a human way, and I don’t think that you would find one politician that wasn’t afraid at the beginning of the lockdown – first lockdown, when we had no idea what the pandemic was going to be.

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris said the messages only show a ‘partial’ account of what was happening at the time (Jordan Pettit/PA)

“Today’s revelations were around the time where there were no vaccines, there was limited testing. I think you have got to put it in the time context as well as everything else, which is why it’s important to wait for the inquiry.”

The messages were shared with the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who co-authored Mr Hancock’s memoir the Pandemic Diaries, which covered his time as health secretary.

Mr Hancock has suggested Ms Oakeshott may have broken a confidentiality agreement and that he could take legal action.

She has defended the disclosure in recent days, insisting sharing the messages is in the public interest.

Mr Hancock has said all the materials used to write his book have been made available to the official Covid-19 inquiry.