Hancock will have WhatsApp and his emails searched in legal battle over test contracts

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock will have his personal WhatsApp and emails wanted in a High Court battle over millions of pounds of antibody testing contracts.

The Good Law Project has taken legal action against the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC), claiming that more than £ 80million in contracts for antibody tests have been awarded illegally.

The offer is for three contracts awarded to Abingdon Health which, according to the group, were awarded in April, June and August 2020 but were not published until October 2020.

“The contracts were awarded directly and covertly, without publicity or competition,” Good Law Project attorney Joseph Barrett said in written arguments.

The group also argues that the contracts “involve very substantial illegal government subsidies.”

On Tuesday, the group asked the High Court to order searches of Mr Hancock’s government email accounts and its “non-government communications systems” used for government business – believed to include WhatsApps.

Mr Hancock resigned earlier this year (Aaron Chown / PA)

Mr Hancock had been the health secretary from July 2018 until his resignation in June after photos of him kissing an assistant were posted in his departmental office, in violation of coronavirus rules.

Claiming that Mr Hancock was the “ultimate decision maker” when awarding the contract to Abingdon Health, Mr Barrett told the court that Mr Hancock had used several non-government emails for government business. However, no search had been carried out and no documents had been disclosed.

Mr Barrett alleged that the DHSC had “either destroyed, decommissioned, or refused to seek or disclose substantially all of the repositories and documents of the four oldest and most important people in the case” .

Philip Moser QC, for the DHSC disputing the claim, argued that Mr. Hancock had a “limited” role in the contracts.

“There is no reasonable basis on which to seek such disclosure, as Mr Hancock’s involvement in the matters at issue in these proceedings was limited and, in any event, any communication from the Secretary of State for the time would have been covered by the disclosure exercise, ”he said.

Justice Fraser ordered that Mr. Hancock’s governmental and non-governmental communications that were used on government business be searched for relevant documents.


Mr. Hancock’s WhatsApp will be accessible (Nick Ansell / PA)

The judge said: “It seems to me that even though his involvement has been described as ‘limited’, ‘limited’ can still be quite significant. “

He also ordered former Health Minister Lord Bethell to provide a witness statement on the use of personal devices for government business.

The conservative peer left the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) last week following resignation calls for his use of a personal email account rather than official communication channels.

Mr Moser said in his written submissions: “There is no evidence in the documents relied on by the plaintiffs … that Lord Bethell, or others, used personal communication devices to communicate substantively with Mr. Hancock regarding Abingdon. “

However, he added that the former minister had agreed to provide a witness statement and have his devices searched.

He said: ‘Lord Bethell has consented to a search for three personal email accounts and keywords have been agreed upon with the requester. He also consented to have his personal mobile phone devices searched.

Government lawyers have previously said the old phone was “broken” six months ago and the data it contained was not on the replacement.

The lost information is said to have included WhatsApp and SMS messages.

The court also heard that Lord Bethell’s phone is currently with “disclosure consultants” to determine if his WhatsApp messages can be recovered.

A spokesperson for the former health secretary said: “Mr Hancock was not involved in the award of this contract, nor any other contract for that matter. They were all awarded through process. formal, as confirmed by the National Audit Office.

“At the time, everyone in the Department of Health and Social Affairs was working hourly to respond to the pandemic and increase testing capacity. Any suggestion of wrongdoing is completely false.

The full trial is due to take place from December 6.

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