Matt Hancock affair: were any laws broken?

Labour calls for investigations into social distancing breach and Gina Coladangelo’s employment

Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo
Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo are pictured leaving Downing Street on 1 May
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The scandal surrounding Matt Hancock continues to rage despite his resignation over CCTV footage that showed him kissing an aide in his Whitehall office.

One opposition MP has reported the former health secretary to police for breaching coronavirus restrictions, while Labour leader Keir Starmer has said there are “huge questions still to answer”.

“If anybody thinks that the resignation of Matt Hancock is the end of the issue,” he said, “I think they’re wrong.”

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Did Hancock break the law?

The disgraced MP admitted to breaching social distancing guidance after The Sun exposed what it called a “steamy clinch” with his aide Gina Coladangelo at his Whitehall office. “I have let people down and am very sorry,” he said. The pair, who are both married, were caught on camera in a “passionate embrace” as “Covid gripped Britain” on 6 May, said the newspaper.

Metro says Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson has asked police to investigate Hancock for “flouting his own social distancing rules with his secret lover”. Grieving families backed calls for a prosecution of Hancock, who reportedly left his wife when he found out the story was about to break, it adds.

“Experts say the incident sits in a legal ‘grey area’,” says The Independent. While separate households could not mix indoors at the time, there were several exceptions, including gatherings that were “reasonably necessary for work purposes”. Barrister Adam Wagner has said: “It’s quite difficult to understand how what we see in the picture could be reasonably necessary for work purposes. So I think this probably is a breach of Matt Hancock’s own regulations.”

Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police has said no criminal investigation has been launched. The force said that, as a matter of course, it would focus on “live” breaches of the Health Protection Regulations 2020 but would not be “investigating Covid related issues retrospectively”.

What about other rules?

There have been calls for a number of other investigations related to the affair, including a probe into Coladangelo’s employment as a non-executive director at the Department of Health.

Reports have suggested Hancock failed to declare the relationship when Coladangelo got the £15,000-a-year job in September, which Labour says would appear to breach the Ministerial Code.

Coladangelo, who became friends with Hancock at Oxford University, was also working as his unpaid adviser and as communications director for her husband Oliver Tress’s high street chain Oliver Bonas. Friends of Hancock claim the relationship began only in May this year and Coladangelo has now quit as a non-executive director at the health department.

Hancock also faces scrutiny for using private email for official business, which could amount to another breach of rules, reports The Sunday Times. He is yet to comment on the claims.

Did the whistleblower act lawfully?

Meanwhile, the health department is carrying out an internal inquiry into how the “incendiary” footage ended up in the public domain, reports the Mail on Sunday. The newspaper claims the couple were secretly recorded by a member of staff.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told The Andrew Marr Show that this was “possibly” a breach of the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence. However, The Guardian says Downing Street has ruled out a full-scale inquiry into the identity of the leaker as they might successfully argue they were exposing wrongdoing under whistleblowing legal protections.

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