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Matt Hancock reveals ministers' plan to FREE prisoners in lockdown

Matt Hancock unleashed: Ex-Health Secretary lifts lid on ministers’ ‘bonkers’ plan to FREE prisoners during lockdown, reveals how he fell ‘deeply’ in love with Gina and details his feud with Cummings in explosive book serialisation

Ministers considered a ‘bonkers plan’ to release thousands of prisoners during the Covid lockdown, Matt Hancock has revealed in explosive diaries that lift the lid on the inside story of the pandemic. 

The former health secretary’s eagerly awaited book, Pandemic Diaries, details the extraordinary drama, feuds, cock-ups, failures and triumphs of the Government’s battle to cope with a once-in-a-century crisis.

The diaries will be serialised exclusively in the Daily Mail from Saturday, with the first extracts available on The Mail+ from 5pm tomorrow.

Mr Hancock has also given an extensive interview to the Mail, in which he talks candidly about his time in the I’m a Celebrity jungle and falling ‘deeply’ in love with former aide Gina Coladangelo. That too will appear on The Mail+ at 5pm tomorrow.

Matt Hancock’s electrifying diaries reveal what really went on at the heart of government in the early days of the pandemic

As health secretary in Boris Johnson’s Government during the pandemic, Mr Hancock played a central role in a string of huge – and often controversial – decisions, including lockdowns, travel restrictions and the procurement and rollout of the world’s first Covid vaccine.

In the book’s prologue, Mr Hancock says he was ‘in the hot seat’ during the fastest-moving and most intense crisis ‘in human history’.

‘I am proud of what we achieved, especially on the vaccine,’ he writes. ‘But there is much to learn for the next public health crisis of this kind, which I am sure will happen in my lifetime.’

His diaries reveal the astonishing discussions at the heart of government as ministers struggled to come to terms with the enormity of the crisis.

Mr Hancock is reunited with Gina Coladangelo after he’s voted off I’m a Celeb

With the first lockdown looming in March 2020, Mr Hancock says he was pressured to sign off the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent them catching the virus in jail.

In his entry for March 17, he writes: ‘A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they’d be easier to manage if they’re not in prison. Yes, really: they actually thought this might be a goer. I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.’

Despite his opposition, officials continue to agitate for the plan for a further fortnight.

After cleaning off his jungle grime, Mr Hancock heads to the end-of-show party with Miss Coladangelo

Writing on April 3, Mr Hancock says: ‘Officials are still insisting that Justice Secretary Rob Buckland wants to release thousands of non-violent prisoners to take the pressure off the system. I keep writing ‘NO’ in large letters on submissions asking me to sign this off. It’s obvious the public won’t wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.

‘After about the third iteration, I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.

‘Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the matter. Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.

‘We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release, I spluttered.’

Cummings and Hancock (circled) at a tense No10 meeting with Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty at the end of February 2020

Matt Hancock on Australia’s Gold Coast before his exclusive interview with the Mail

Mr Hancock’s book reveals several jaw-dropping facts about the Government’s handling of the pandemic from its earliest days when the virus was first identified in China.

The revelations are certain to provoke controversy about the Government’s response, and are likely to produce major lines of investigation for the public inquiry into the disaster.

The former health secretary also casts new light on the internal power struggles as key players such as Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove argued over how far and how fast to go in shutting down the economy to protect lives.

Mr Hancock also sets out the problems and frustrations set out by external players, including Donald Trump, the European Union and Nicola Sturgeon.

And he hits back at Dominic Cummings, who has publicly savaged his response to the pandemic.

In an explosive evidence session with MPs last year, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide branded Mr Hancock a liar and attacked his record on care homes, Covid testing, PPE and vaccines, saying the Department of Health was a ‘smoking ruin’ in the spring of 2020.

Mr Cummings said he repeatedly urged Mr Johnson to sack Mr Hancock.

In the coming days, Mr Hancock will paint a very different picture as he finally reveals his own side of the story and details his battles with Mr Cummings, who launched a vindictive campaign against Mr Johnson and his government after being forced from office at the end of 2020.

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