Isabel Oakeshott – the jounalist behind Hanock’s Covid messages

Isabel Oakeshott was sent ‘menacing message’ from Matt Hancock after leak

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Journalist turned-writer Isabel Oakeshott has found herself in the centre of a political row — again. The 48-year-old worked with Matt Hancock on his book, Pandemic Diaries, published last year. The book was largely deemed to be an attempt to save face following his handling of the pandemic. In the process of her writing with the 44-year-old, which she said she did in order to get to the “truth”, Ms Oakeshott was handed thousands of messages which have since been obtained by the Telegraph in what Mr Hancock described as a “massive betrayal”. But who is Ms Oakeshott, the journalist who has found herself at the heart of a political scandal once more?

The mother of three, whose career began in Scotland working for local papers before becoming the Evening Standard’s health correspondent, first found herself embroiled in a political scandal when she was political editor of the Sunday Times, a position she held from 2010 to 2014.

In 2013, Ms Oakeshott agreed to publish an article which revealed that the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Chris Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce had taken speeding points for him while they were married to ensure he avoided a driving ban.

The front-page story resulted in both being imprisoned for eight months at Southwark Crown Court, London, for perverting the course of justice. The former MP resigned from the Commons after pleading guilty to the offence.

Pryce had sought revenge on her husband of 26 years, who had a long-term affair with his PR adviser Carina Trimingham, by revealing that she had taken the wrap on the driving points.

She had initially hoped to dish the dirt anonymously, however, Ms Oakeshott sought to convince her to speak on the record. Their emails revealed Ms Oakeshott had initially told her there were “low chances” of her being prosecuted.

However, she told Andrew Neil in an interview with the BBC in 2013 that she had said that early on in the correspondence. She said: “Later on, I say there is some risk to her whichever way we do the story.”

Ms Oakeshott said she did not fail her duty of care to Pryce, stating: “It’s not my job, nor is it the job of the Sunday Times to give expert criminal advice to the source of a story. We now know that Vicky was taking expert advice from a judge, you can’t get better than that.”

Two years later, the TalkTV presenter was involved in a scandal once again due to an unauthorised biography she wrote along with the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft about David Cameron. Lord Ashcroft had donated millions to Mr Cameron’s election campaign and yet had not been given a top job in his coalition Governkent.

The 2015 book Call Me Dave made the unsubstantiated and bizarre claim that the then Prime Minister, during an initiation ceremony at an event of the Piers Gaveston Society at university, had put a “private part” in a dead pig’s mouth with which he then “had sex”.

The biography also alleged that the 56-year-old had smoked cannabis at Oxford University as well as the claim that cocaine had been passed around at a party hosted by the Camerons. The former Prime Minister denied the allegations.

In an interview with BBC Newsnight, she defended the book, arguing: “This is a biography of the Prime Minister which gives the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re not there to write a hagiography. There are some difficult things in there and there are also plenty of extremely complimentary, flattering things about the Prime Minister in there as well.”

Later, she revealed that she only had one source to back up the “piggate” allegation, adding that they could have been “slightly deranged”.

In 2019, the Daily Mail’s former political editor-at-large obtained emails written by the British ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, where he described then President Donald Trump as “incompetent”, “inept” and “insecure”.

Extracts were published by Ms Oakeshott in the Mail on Sunday and ultimately lead to Sir Kim, who Trump described as a “wacky ambassador” and “very stupid guy” on Twitter, handing in his resignation.

A staunch Brexiteer, Ms Oakeshott helped campaigner Arron Banks write his 2016 book The Bad Boys of Brexit. Much like Mr Hancock’s work, this was a diary account of the unofficial leave campaign.

She similarly leaked emails between Mr Banks and Russian officials in the Sunday Times, revealing his dealings with Russian officials and businessmen.

Now, Ms Oakeshott, a long time lockdown sceptic, finds herself at the centre of another scandal having helped Mr Hancock write the book with whom she said she has “nothing in common”. Although she said she was not paid for the work which lasted a year, she said she found it “richly rewarding in other ways”.

This week the contents of 100,000 texts sent from Mr Hancock to the likes of the former prime minister Boris Johnson and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty were leaked.

One revelation includes the fact teachers were described as looking for an “excuse” not to work during the pandemic, according to education secretary Gavin Williamson with Mr Hancock messaging: “What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are.”

The messages were leaked to the Telegraph with Ms Oakeshott not telling Mr Hancock that the Whatsapp exchanges were being made public, breaking a nondisclosure agreement in the process.

However, she defended her actions on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on March 2. She told Nick Robinson: “My responsibilities, having finished the book with him are now to the public interest… That’s a matter of public record.”

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When asked whether she was paid by the Daily Telegraph for the messages, the freelance journalist said she had been “helping” the publication with its investigation and writing stories for them.

Ms Oakeshott said: “Anyone who thinks I did this for money must be utterly insane. This is about the millions of people, every one of us in this country, that were adversely affected by the catastrophic decisions to lock down this country repeatedly, often for the flimsiest of reasons.”

Mr Hancock has said he “hugely disappointed” with Ms Oakshott’s actions, describing it as a “massive betrayal and breach of trust”.

However, some of his former Conservative colleagues have questioned why, depite having an NDA, he gave Ms Oakshott such far reaching acess given her track record.

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