A judge ruled that both the former Health Secretary’s government and personal accounts that were used for official business should be searched for material related to the case
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Matt Hancock will have his personal emails and WhatsApp messages searched as part of a High Court battle over Covid testing contracts
A judge ruled that both the former Health Secretary’s government and personal accounts that were used for official business should be searched for material related to the case.
The Good Law Project (GLP) is taking the government to court over claims the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), under Mr Hancock, handed out £80m worth of contracts unlawfully.
The group claim contracts, given to testing firm Abingdon Health were awarded “directly and secretly without competition” and “compromise very substantial unlawful public subsidies.”
The contracts were awarded in April, June and August 2020, but not published until October 2020.
In written arguments on Tuesday, GLP barrister, Joseph Barrett, argued Mr Hancock’s personal accounts should be searched for evidence because he was the”ultimate decision maker”.
And he claimed the department had “either destroyed or otherwise put beyond recovery or refused to search or disclose almost all of the repositories and documents of the four most senior and important individuals in the case”.
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Both Mr Hancock and DHSC deny any wrongdoing, with Philip Moser QC, for the Department, arguing the former Health Secretary’s role in dishing out the deals was “limited.”
“There is no reasonable basis on which to seek such disclosure, because Mr Hancock’s involvement in the matters which are in issue in these proceedings was limited and, in any event, any communications from the then Secretary of State would have been caught by the existing disclosure exercise.” he said.
Mr Justice Fraser ordered the search to take place, saying: “It seems to me that even though his involvement has been described as ‘limited’, ‘limited’ can still be quite significant.”
Lord Bethell, who the Mirror revealed had held dozens of meetings with Covid firms that went undeclared for more than a year, was also ordered to give a witness statement over the use of personal devices for government business.
The Tory peer, who left government in last week’s reshuffle following calls for Boris Johnson to sack him, also consented to a search of three personal email accounts and his mobile phones.
Government lawyers had previously said Lord Bethell’s old phone had “broken” six months ago, and that WhatsApp and text messages contained on it had been lost.
The court heard Lord Bethell’s old phone is currently with “disclosure consultants” to ascertain whether the messages can be retrieved.
The trial is set to begin on December 6, 2021.