‘How bad are the pics?’: Messages reveal Hancock’s battle to salvage career

New leaked messages between Matt Hancock and officials show how the then health secretary scrambled to save his career after footage emerged of his embrace with aide Gina Coladangelo.

They are among the latest set of WhatsApp correspondence to emerge from the leak of more than 100,000 messages published by the Daily Telegraph.

The latest tranche centre on the hours after Mr Hancock discovered that leaked footage, showing him breaching social distancing rules, would appear on the front page of the Sun in June 2021.

He resigned as health secretary shortly afterwards.

The messages show Mr Hancock discussing the guidance in place at the time and deciding what his initial response to media questions should be.

As he awaits publication, Mr Hancock asks a special adviser: ‘How bad are the pics?’

Told it’s a ‘snog and heavy petting’, he replies: ‘How the f*** did anyone photograph that?’

The messages also show the reaction of Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo to a video obtained by The Sun.

‘OMFG,’ Ms Coladangelo said.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Crikey. Not sure there’s much news value in that and I can’t say it’s very enjoyable viewing.’

In his diaries, published last year, Mr Hancock said that he resigned as health secretary after colleagues failed to defend him publicly.

By his own account, he said that Boris Johnson had assured him he could carry on even though he and Ms Coladangelo had been pictured kissing in his office in breach of his own social-distancing guidelines.

But after the story broke, Mr Hancock said he found himself ‘increasingly isolated’ politically and was left with no choice but to quit.

The messages show Mr Hancock and his advisers discussing among themselves and liaising with Number 10 about how to respond to the story, amid an unfolding political storm.

They also reveal that he asked his former mentor and ex-chancellor George Osborne for advice, as he prepared to resign.

The exchanges were among more than 100,000 messages passed to the Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

She was originally given the material by Mr Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir of his time in government during the pandemic.

Mr Hancock has condemned the leak as a ‘massive betrayal’ designed to support an ‘anti-lockdown agenda’. 

In a statement, he said there was ‘absolutely no public interest case’ for the leak because all the material used for his book had been handed to the Covid-19 public inquiry.

Ms Oakeshott has insisted that the revelations are in the public interest.

Other messages reveal Mr Hancock and Rishi Sunak disagreed over the course of the pandemic on Covid restrictions and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

They show that Mr Hancock had serious concerns about the flagship Treasury scheme designed to support restaurants, dubbing it the ‘eat out to help the virus get about’.

The state-backed scheme offered customers a 50% discount, up to £10, on meals and soft drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as businesses sought to recover from the pandemic.

But concerns have been expressed subsequently that the scheme could have contributed to the spread of the virus.

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