A minister today dismissed leaked Covid-era WhatsApps as a ‘view into the psyche of Matt Hancock after it emerged the ex-health secretary told aides he wanted to ‘frighten the pants off everyone’. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris insisted the huge trove of messages did not give huge insight into ‘actual decision-making’. 

The comments came after the latest disclosures showed discussions over how to scare the public into limiting the spread of coronavirus, and when to ‘deploy’ details of a new strain. 

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 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

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris insisted the huge trove of messages did not give huge insight into 'actual decision-making'

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris insisted the huge trove of messages did not give huge insight into ‘actual decision-making’

The discussion took place in December 2020, just three weeks before the whole of the country was placed back under lockdown rules

The discussion took place in December 2020, just three weeks before the whole of the country was placed back under lockdown rules

Exchanges from December 2020 show concern that London Mayor Sadiq Khan could follow the example of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who had criticised stringent lockdown restrictions on his region. 

In an apparent reference to the Kent variant, Mr Hancock’s adviser Damon Poole 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. 

He expressed concern that ‘Brexit is taking the top line’ as the UK’s departure from the EU was finalised. 

‘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 strain – the Kent 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-PM 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 tighten lockdown. 

Mr Case wrote: ‘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 pair agreed that merely cracking down on anglers would be ridiculed, with Mr Hancock saying he ‘honestly wouldn’t move on any small things unless we move on a lot’. 

Mr Case said: ‘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).’ 

Mr Heaton-Harris denied that it was Government strategy to scare the public.

‘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,’ he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg.

Asked about the evolving story portrayed in the messages, Mr Heaton-Harris said: ‘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.’

Pressed on whether 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.

‘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 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.

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.’ 

Is it any wonder that in the end, Matt Hancock rubbed too many people up the wrong way and was caught out indulging in close personal contact with one of his own advisors?

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’

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. 



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