Ministers’ confusion about Covid rules caused resentment among police – ex-chief

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Ministers did not understand their own Covid lockdown rules, a former police chief has said, after the latest tranche of Matt Hancock’s leaked messages showed he discussed the need to “get heavy” with the police over enforcing measures.

An exchange from August 2020 published by the Daily Telegraph revealed how the then-health secretary and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case feared officers were not doing enough to prevent people from breaking the rules.

Mr Hancock also messaged Mr Case the following January to inform him that the “PM was in vg shape” and that “the plod got their marching orders”.

Sir Peter Fahy
Former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy (Peter Byrne/PA)

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think lots of people in the police service won’t be surprised at the tone of these remarks.

“There was this constant confusion between what was legislation and what was guidance. Often it seemed ministers themselves didn’t understand the impact of the legislation.”

He said it caused “huge resentment within policing” when cases of officers “trying to do their best” were “highlighted and misunderstood”.

The correspondence highlighted by the newspaper showed Mr Case asking: “Who actually is delivering enforcement?”

Mr Hancock replied “I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police”.

Simon Case
Matt Hancock discussed enforcement of the Covid rules with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (Oli Scarff/PA)

“At the same time as they were flagrantly breaking the law themselves with their lockdown parties, they were demanding stronger enforcement by the police on everyone else,” she said.

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”.

But Ms Oakeshott brushed off the question of betrayal, reiterating her argument that the release was in the public interest.

“People can decide for themselves which is more important,” she told Good Morning Britain.

“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.”

She said the messages showed politicians were “profoundly misguided in their response to the pandemic” and that she refused to be “blown off course” by legal threats over the leak.

In other exchanges, Mr Hancock and Mr Case joked about travellers arriving in the UK being “locked up” in quarantine hotels, with the Cabinet Secretary saying it was “hilarious”.

Mr Hancock also shared a news story with Boris Johnson about a man and a woman who were fined £10,000 each for failing to quarantine, to which the then-prime minister replied: “Superb”.

The Telegraph said the messages also showed Mr Hancock wanted his team to contact the Home Office after a news report suggested ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage broke quarantine rules after returning from a trip to the US.

His special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin replied: “Does he count as a pub hooligan? Can we lock him up?”

Mr Hancock then said his case should be dealt with “like any other”.

Mr Hancock messaged back: “Perfect.”

Morgan reacted by sharing a screenshot of the leaked messages with the caption: “Lovely people…”.

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