Matt Hancock said the UK would need to get ‘get heavy with the police’ to enforce lockdown rules, leaked messages have revealed.
WhatsApps released today by The Telegraph show Mr Hancock speaking with Simon Case, who was No 10 permanent secretary at the time, in late August 2020.
The two were said to have been wary of the police failing to crack down on lockdown lawbreaking.
In a message sent on 28 August 2020, Mr Case told Mr Hancock: ‘Blimey! Who actually is delivering enforcement?’
‘I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police,’ Mr Hancock responded, according to the leaks.
Mr Hancock also told Mr Case he was pleased ‘the plod got their marching orders’ in January 2021 days after another lockdown began.
Police officers were given new powers to ensure people stayed at home and avoided non-essential travel in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
But critics said the rules weren’t clear enough, and the force was too ‘heavy-handed’ in punishing people for doing things that once seemed routine.
Some police used drones to film and shame people walking their dogs, and fined people walking alone with cups of coffee or for attending peaceful vigils.
The Telegraph reported other messages showing Mr Hancock and Mr Case celebrating people arriving in the UK being placed into ‘quarantine hotels’.
‘We are giving big families all the suites and putting pop stars in the box rooms,’ Mr Hancock wrote on February 5, 2021.
‘I just want to see some of the faces of people coming out of first class and into a Premier Inn shoe box,’ Mr Case replied.
More than a week later, the civil servant messaged: ‘Any idea how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?’
‘None,’ Mr Hancock shot back. ‘But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in quarantine hotels due to their own free hill!’
‘Hilarious,’ said Mr Case.
The texts form the more than 100,000 WhatsApp exchanges leaked to the press this week by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after working with Mr Hancock on a book.
Some showed how Mr Hancock rejected advice to test all residents going into English care homes for coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.
While a batch this morning suggested former education secretary Gavin Williamson said schools wanted to shut down so staff had an ‘excuse’ not to work.
Mr Hancock said today he is ‘hugely disappointed’ by Ms Oakeshott’s ‘massive betrayal and breach of trust’.
‘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,’ he said.
Mr Hancock said there was ‘absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach’ as all the materials would have been used for his Pandemic Diaries book.
‘As we have seen, releasing them in this way gives a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda,’ he said.
But Ms Oakeshott brushed off the MP’s ‘ridiculous defence’ that the communications are not in the public interest.
‘For someone who’s as intelligent as Matt Hancock to issue a statement saying there is no public interest in these revelations is patently absurd,’ she told TalkTV.
‘And he knows that very well.’
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