Isabel Oakeshott has admitted she breached a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Matt Hancock by leaking his WhatsApp messages from the pandemic to a newspaper – but insisted it was “not a personal matter”.
The first story from the installment of messages He broke out in the Telegraph last night, claiming the former health secretary had rejected advice on testing care homes and expressed concern it could hinder his targets.
The MP strongly denied the “twisted account”, with a spokesman claiming the talks were “twisted to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
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A source close to Mr Hancock also claimed the journalist had ‘breached a legal NDA’, adding: ‘Her behavior is outrageous.’
Speaking to TalkTV in her first interview since the article was published, Ms Oakeshott – who received the messages by Mr Hancock while working on his memoirs with him – he said he had signed an NDA and chose to break it “in the public interest” as it could be “a decade” before his reports were formally investigated COVID.
He said: “The public interest is overwhelming. Anytime you’re breaking a big story that’s in the national interest … it can be a rocky road, it can be a bumpy ride.
“I know I’m going to take a few hits on it [but] I am prepared to do this because I believe the national interest is so compelling.”
The reporter added: “This to me is not personal to Matt Hancock.”
‘More to come’
Earlier on Wednesday, the chair of the COVID-19 inquiry, Lady Hallett, insisted it “will not last for decades” and “there will be no calcium”.
The chief adviser to the official COVID inquiry Hugo Keith also said they were already aware of WhatsApp, having received messages from more than 60 groups across Whitehall – including government departments, individual ministers and civil servants, scientists and specialist advisers – after they requested the their revelation last September.
He added that there would be “many more” to come and that the material they requested “goes much further” than the newspaper report.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it was not launching an investigation into the massive leak “at this stage”, citing journalistic exemptions in the public interest.
Mr Hancock is considering legal action against the Telegraph.
Earlier, the claims had been made several times in the Commons, with Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer saying that families whose loved ones had died from COVID would find the leaked messages an “insulting and silly spectacle”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, he said “the country deserves better” and called on Rishi Sunak to ensure the official investigation into COVID is not delayed further.
Mr Sunak insisted the official inquiry was the “right way” to investigate the government’s handling of the pandemic rather than relying on “piecemeal pieces of information”.
Later in the day, Labour’s shadow social care secretary Liz Kendall raised an urgent question about the article’s claims, saying: “We need more humility and less celebrity from the member for West Suffolk and above all we need answers.”
Health Secretary Helen Whately told MPs that “the importance of testing has never been in doubt” but added that “tough decisions had to be made about prioritization”.
He said “selective excerpts of WhatsApp conversations give a limited and sometimes misleading picture of the machinery of government at the time” and the investigation into COVID was the right way forward.