Isabel Oakeshott claims relationship with Matt Hancock went sour after he ‘vanished’ to appear on I’m a Celebrity without telling her he was going
- Matt Hancock travelled to Australia in November to appear on I’m a Celebrity
- Isabel Oakeshott said this was at a ‘critical moment’ on finalising his book
- She subsequently handed over 100,000 of the MP’s texts to The Telegraph
The MP for West Suffolk travelled to Australia in November in the ITV show, for which he was paid £320,000.
But Isabel Oakeshott, who was co-writing the former minister’s Pandemic Diaries memoir at the time, claimed ‘he didn’t tell me he was going’ and he ‘vanished to the jungle at a critical moment in very difficult dealings with the Cabinet Office’.
She subsequently handed The Daily Telegraph 100,000 of Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp texts, which she has described as a ‘cache of very raw communications’.
The MP has since said her actions were a ‘massive betrayal’ used to produce ‘a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda’.
The MP for West Suffolk travelled to Australia in November in the ITV show, for which he was paid £320,000, at a ‘critical moment’ when the pair were working on his book Pandemic Diaries, Isabel Oakeshott (pictured this morning on BBC Breakfast) said
Mr Hancock (pictured leaving the jungle in third place) has described her actions as a ‘massive betrayal’ used to produce ‘a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda’
Ms Oakeshott told The Guardian she did not consider working on the pandemic project — which The Telegraph has called the Lockdown Files — until after the book was published in December, a fortnight after the ITV show wrapped up.
She said: ‘That process had been utterly all-consuming, especially since he vanished to the jungle at a critical moment in very difficult dealings with the Cabinet Office. He didn’t tell me he was going.’
The journalist defended her decision to share the messages in an article in The Telegraph on Tuesday. Ms Oakeshott said the book left out ‘all sorts of interesting WhatsApp messages’ to spare Mr Hancock’s and others’ ‘blushes’ or because of space constraints.
But ‘even more sensitive material was removed from the manuscript at the eleventh hour under pressure from the Cabinet Office’, she said.
Government officials went through the book line by line, in a ‘painstaking process’ that led to almost ‘300 requests for deletions and amends on various grounds’, including concerns about diplomatic relations and national security, said Ms Oakeshott.
And on BBC Breakfast this morning, she hit out at the MP again, accusing him of ‘disappearing to the jungle’ at a critical time when writing the book.
She said: ‘I’ve been really clear that I’m not going to get into any kind of slanging match with Matt Hancock.
‘There’s plenty that I could say about the way he approached our professional relationship and the decisions he made about disappearing to the jungle without telling me in a critical time with our dealings with the Cabinet Office.
‘This isn’t about him. I know he tends to think it is. It isn’t about him, it isn’t about me, it is so much bigger than that.’
Ms Oakeshott also denied becoming friends with the politician when working with him on his book and said: ‘It is not my job to protect reputations of politicians. It is my job to expose what they do.’
The messages have already revealed that Mr Hancock was given advice from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty to test all residents going into care homes for Covid. Yet he did not follow the recommendation — which, he claims, was due to test shortages at the time.
Texts set out that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case joked with Mr Hancock about locking up travellers arriving in UK in quarantine hotels.
And Mr Hancock told ministers to ‘get heavy with police’ to enforce lockdown rules, according to the messages, which MailOnline has not seen or independently verified.
They also show that former prime minister Boris Johnson feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second shutdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’.
And Ms Oakeshott also accused Mr Hancock of sending her a ‘threatening’ and ‘somewhat menacing’ text at 1:20am on Wednesday morning, following the first batch of bombshell revelations.
But Mr Hancock denied this and said he just told Ms Oakeshott it was ‘a big mistake – nothing more’.
The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by former Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries
In a statement, he said: ‘I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott.
‘I am also sorry for the impact on the very many people — political colleagues, civil servants and friends — who worked hard with me to get through the pandemic and save lives.’
Explaining the message he sent to his co-author, Mr Hancock said: ‘I was accused of sending menacing messages to Isabel. This is also wrong.
‘When I heard confused rumours of a publication late on Tuesday night, I called and messaged Isabel to ask her if she had “any clues” about it and got no response.
‘When I then saw what she’d done, I messaged to say it was “a big mistake”. Nothing more.’
He added: ‘Isabel and I had worked closely together for more than a year on my book, based on legal confidentiality and a process approved by the Cabinet Office.
‘Isabel repeatedly reiterated the importance of trust throughout, and then broke that trust.’
Ms Oakeshott today said the ‘menacing message thing’ was ‘overinflated’ as she is not ‘frightened or intimidated’.
She said: ‘It simply said at 1:20 in the morning, “You have made a big mistake”.
‘You can’t really interpret that as anything other than a threat.
‘He has since followed through with more threats of legal action and so on, but I’m not worried about that. I’m not going to be intimidated or blown off course by that.
‘This is much more important than those considerations.’
On the programme, she also defended her decision to publish the messages, saying: ‘Is it more important for me, a journalist, to protect the blushes and reputation of self-interested politicians, all of whom are by the way hiring lawyers to protect their interests during this public inquiry?
‘Or is it more important for me to reveal information that affected every single one of us — that is where I think my duty is in this case.
‘Of course there are risks associated with breaking written agreements, it wasn’t an NDA [non-disclosure agreement], by the way … but a confidentiality undertaking in a written legal contract.
‘I’m prepared to take that risk in the public interest and if I take a few knocks from people carping about the way it has been done then that’s also fine by me.’
It comes after the journalist yesterday issued a warning shot to the former minister that there is ‘plenty more’ she can reveal about his behaviour.
Quizzed about how she would describe her actions towards Mr Hancock on BBC Radio 4 today, Ms Oakeshott said: ‘What I’m not going to do, because it wouldn’t be pretty, is get involved in a slanging match with Matt Hancock.
‘He can threaten me all he likes.
‘There are plenty of things I can say about his behaviour, by the way, that I’m not going to do, at least not at this stage, because this is not about Matt Hancock, it is so much bigger than that.
‘Trust me, there’s plenty I can say.’
KEY CLAIMS OF THE LOCKDOWN FILES INVESTIGATION
A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries claimed:
- Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
- A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’, but residents remained isolated many months on
- Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
- Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
- Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed
- Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was ‘definitely working’ after she managed to secure a test ‘just’ 50 miles from where she lived.
- Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
- The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
- Face masks were introduced in school hallways and communal areas after the PM was told it would avoid an ‘argument’ with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
- Matt Hancock took ‘rearguard’ action to close schools after former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson persuaded the PM to keep them open in January 2021
- Sir Gavin said teachers were looking for an ‘excuse’ not to work during the pandemic
- Ministers said there was ‘no robust rationale’ for imposing the ‘rule of six’ on children, but did it anyway
- Pupils with false positive results on a lateral flow test had to isolate at home for ten days, even when they tested negative on a PCR, to avoid ‘unpicking’ the policy
- The PM feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second Covid lockdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’
- Mr Johnson was eager to ease curbs on retail, hospitality and gatherings in June 2020 but was told he was ‘too far ahead of public opinion’
- Mr Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case joked about travellers ‘locked up’ in quarantine hotels during Covid lockdown
- The minister said the Government should ‘get heavy with the police’ to help crack down on Covid lockdown rulebreakers
- Mr Hancock’s team asked if they could ‘lock up’ Nigel Farage after he posted a video of himself in a pub when they suspected he was in breach of rules