Hancock demanded legal immunity on care home deaths

Matt Hancock reportedly told lawyers he should have legal immunity over his department’s failure to protect care home residents just days before his WhatsApp messages during the time were leaked to the public. The former Health Secretary is alleged to have told lawyers the entire Government should be held responsible and that he should be exempt from blame.

Mr Hancock tried to argue against the idea that the head of a Government department should be held responsible for the actions of that department, and argued that an attempt to do would be merely out of “chasing tabloid headlines.”

The comments were made in a talk over his book, the Pandemic Diaries, the Mirror reports.

A few days later his WhatsApp messages were leaked to the Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, to whom Mr Hancock had sent the transcripts to help her ghostwrite his book.

He has denied claims the texts suggest he ignored Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty’s advice to test all people going into care homes. In the messages, Mr Hancock appears to be more concerned with the public perception of his policies, rather than their effectiveness in saving lives during the pandemic.

He said he thought committing to testing people coming into care homes from the community – including staff – didn’t “add anything” and “muddies the waters”.

His department’s policy of discharging untested patients into them from hospital was ruled unlawful by the High Court in April in a case brought by Dr Cathy Gardner, who lost her father.

And in another High Court case, brought by campaign group the Good Law Project, he was ruled against over the use of a “VIP lane” to hand PPE contracts to firms recommended by ministers and officials. Despite losing both cases, neither the former Health Secretary nor his department faced any legal consequences.

Twelve days ago Mr Hancock told leading London legal firm Mishcon de Reya it was wrong that a Secretary of State of a department should be held legally responsible for failures. He claimed it should be “HMG” instead during the online question and answer session.

Under the current law, the defendant in any judicial review against a Government department has to be the Secretary of State.

However, Mr Hancock pushed back against this, saying:”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.”

During the Q&A, Mr Hancock also claimed to have “banned alcohol” in his department to stop his team being “more social” – but this directly contrasted what was then revealed in his WhatsApp messages, in which then-aide Gina Coladangelo told him there were drinks in the fridge to celebrate hitting his testing target in May 2020.

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She wrote, adding a beer glasses emoji: “Drinks cold in fridge at DH. Feel free to open before we are back”.

Mr Hancock’s spokesman confirmed that he did not introduce an alcohol ban until the following January.

The former Health Secretary also branded criticism of the government’s PPE procurement strategy as “offensive”. He argued that writing off £12billion of unused PPE was justifiable, remarking: “I’d rather save lives.”

According to the latest figures, the Government is still storing about 6.6 billion items of unused or unusable PPE in warehouses, costing £319,000 a day.

Activist Gina Miller, leader of the True and Fair Party and who took the Government to court over Brexit, has written to Met Police Chief Sir Mark Rowley calling for Mr Hancock to be prosecuted.

She wrote: “The threshold has been met to investigate Mr Hancock for gross negligence manslaughter… a common law offence that carries a maximum of life imprisonment.”

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