Matt Hancock told aides he wanted to 'frighten the pants off everyone'

Matt Hancock told aides he wanted to 'frighten the pants off everyone'

March 5, 2023

Matt Hancock discussed ‘deploying’ new virus variant to ‘frighten the pants off everyone’ as former Health Secretary demands immunity on care home deaths during the pandemic

  • Mr Hancock said he wanted to frighten the public into changing their behaviour
  • It comes as he told a top law firm he should not be help responsible for failings 
  • It follows the texts yesterday showing his reaction to his affair being discovered 

Matt Hancock told aides he wanted to ‘frighten the pants off everyone’ to ensure compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, leaked messages reveal, as it emerges he told top London lawyers he should be immune from prosecution just days before the WhatsApp scandal broke.

In an online Q&A with law firm Mishcon de Reya, Matt Hancock accused those prosecuting Secretaries of State as ‘chasing tabloid headlines’ just 12 days ago, The Mirror reports.

It comes as a new swathe of messages from Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp account were revealed today, involving discussions over how to scare the public to limit the spread of coronavirus, and when to ‘deploy’ details of a new strain. 

The latest set of WhatsApp exchanges show Mr Hancock and others discussed how to use an announcement about the Kent variant of the virus to scare the public into changing their behaviour. 

The messages, among more than 100,000 WhatsApps passed to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, show that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case suggested in January 2021 that the ‘fear’ factor would be ‘vital’ in stopping the spread of the virus. 

The latest set of WhatsApp exchanges show Mr Hancock and others discussed how to use an announcement about the Kent variant of the virus to scare the public into changing their behaviour

The discussion took place in December, just three weeks before the whole of the country was placed back under lockdown rules

In December 2020, the exchanges show concern that London Mayor Sadiq Khan could follow the example of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who had clashed with the Government over the decision to impose stringent lockdown restrictions on the region. 

Mr Hancock’s adviser said: ‘Rather than doing too much forward signalling, we can roll pitch with the new strain.’ 

‘We frighten the pants of everyone with the new strain,’ the then Health Secretary responded. 

‘But the complication with that Brexit is taking the top line,’ he said, in an apparent reference to media coverage of the UK’s EU exit. 

‘Yep that’s what will get proper behaviour change,’ the adviser said. 

‘When do we deploy the new variant,’ Mr Hancock said. 

The conversation, on December 13, came amid concerns about the rapid spread of the virus in south-east England. 

Mr Hancock announced that a new Covid-19 variant had been identified in the UK on December 14. 

London and south-east England were to enter a new Tier 4 alert level, it was announced on December 19, when then prime minister Boris Johnson also cancelled a promised Christmas ‘bubbles’ policy allowing families to meet. 

The entirety of England entered the third national lockdown on January 6 2021. 

Messages from January 10 show Mr Hancock and the Cabinet Secretary discussing ways to ensure compliance. 

‘More mask-wearing might be the only thing to consider. 

‘Effectively free and has a very visible impact? Wear masks in all settings outside home and in more workplaces? 

‘Am not sure that got us much further, did it? Basically, we need to get compliance up.’ 

The conversation, on December 13, came amid concerns about the rapid spread of the virus in south-east England

Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street on April 28, 2021

Mr Hancock tells him, after a brief discussion on angling, that he ‘honestly wouldn’t move on any small things unless we move on a lot’. 

Mr Case agrees: ‘I think that is exactly right. Small stuff looks ridiculous. Ramping up messaging – the fear/guilt factor vital. 

‘I suspect London Nightingale coming into use will feel like a big public moment. 

‘Especially as I guess it will be full with a couple of days (based on current data).’ 

READ MORE: PETER HITCHENS: Now we know for sure that our leaders lost their heads over Covid

The leak has already revealed Rishi Sunak and Mr Hancock complaining about Dominic Cummings’ ‘nightmare’ tenure in Downing Street, as well as the then health secretary’s repeated concerns that the then chancellor’s signature Eat Out To Help Out initiative was contributing to the spread of Covid-19. 

It has also shown Mr Hancock’s desperate 41-hour scramble to try and save his career after The Sun was handed photos revealing his affair with Gina Coladangelo, featuring the pair kissing in breach of his own social distancing rules.

As revelations continue to emerge, it has been reported that just days before the first WhatsApp messages were made public Mr Hancock told a top law firm he should not be personally prosecuted over failures by his department such as the failure to protect care homes.

Among the first set of exchanges to be made public appeared to show Mr Hancock ignoring expert medical advise on the need to test all residents entering care homes for Covid-19 – not just those coming from hospital. 

The former Health Secretary denied this was the case and accused The Telegraph of leaving out vital context from the conversation.

Sir Chris Whitty told him there should be Covid testing for ‘all going into care homes’.

But Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp messages revealed he did not follow the guidance, instead telling advisers it ‘muddies the waters’.

He told Sir Chris: ‘I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.’ 

Speaking online to Mishcon de Reya almost two weeks ago, Mr Hancock is said to have called for the whole government to be prosecuted and held accountable in the case of government failings, not just one department and therefore one Secretary of State.

Mr Hancock said: ‘I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of the courts to essentially go chasing tabloid headlines. You know, “Hancock broke the law” – I didn’t break the law.’  

His insistence that he did not break the law echoes messages sent as he, girlfriend Gina and special advisor Simon Poole discussed how to manage the publication of photos revealing his affair.

While discussing strategies, Mr Hancock said: ‘WE DIDN’T BREAK THE F***ING LAW OK.’

Mr Hancock sent a series of messages to his top team and girlfriend in an effort to save his career – in which his media advisor described the photos as ‘a snog and heavy petting’

In the Q&A he also claimed to have banned alcohol in his department, The Mirror reports. But messages revealed this week showed this ban was not instated until nine months into the pandemic in January 2021. 

Ms Oakeshott was originally given the material by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir of his time in government during the pandemic. 

He has condemned the leak as a ‘massive betrayal’ designed to support an ‘anti-lockdown agenda’. 

In a statement this week, Mr Hancock said that all the materials for his book have been made available to the official Covid-19 inquiry. 

Ms Oakeshott has said the disclosures are in the public interest. 

Some of the messages also offered an insight into Boris Johnson’s thinking at various stages of the pandemic. 

For instance in August 2020, he warned that government messaging was becoming ‘mangled’, referencing ‘private focus groups’. 

‘Folks my private focus groups telling me our messaging now so mangled as to be totally incomprehensible. 

‘We need big reset and simple themes pumped over the airwaves especially on social distancing and how many people you can have in your house etc,’ he wrote. 

A spokesman for the former prime minister said: ‘It is not appropriate to comment on these leaks. 

‘The public inquiry provides the right process for these issues to be examined.’ 

Representatives for Matt Hancock have been approached for comment. 

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