Matt Hancock will have both his Whatsapp and his emails searched during a court battle over the awarding of antibody test contracts.
The former health secretary was accused by Joseph Barrett, the barrister for The Good Law Project group, of being the “ultimate decision-maker” in awarding the contract to Abingdon Health “without any advertisement or competition”.
Last week, the group asked the High Court to order searches of Hancock’s government email accounts, as well as his “non-government communications systems”. Barrett told the Court Hancock had used multiple emails not associated with the government to conduct government business.
The contracts were worth more than £80 million, making it a significant investigation in the public interest. “The contracts were awarded directly, and secretly” to Abingdon Health in three separate contracts given in April, June and August 2020, though this was not published until October 2020. The Good Law Project also argues the contracts “comprise very substantial unlawful public subsidies”.
The defence argued Hancock had a “limited” role in the allocation of contracts for antibody tests. Philip Moser QC, who is contesting the claims against the Department of Health and Social Science (DHSC), said “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 … would have been caught by the existing disclosure exercise”.
In addition to this, a spokesperson for Hancock said: “Mr Hancock had no involvement in the awarding of this contract, or indeed any other contracts. They were all awarded through formal processes, as the National Audit Office has confirmed”.
The judge, however, said: “It seems to me that even though his involvement has been described as ‘limited’, ‘limited’ can still be quite significant”. He ordered that both Hancock’s government and non-government communications be searched for relevant material, as well as ordering ex-health minister Lord Bethell to provide a witness statement on the use of personal devices for government business.
Lord Bethell left the DHSC recently following calls to resign due to his use of a personal email account rather than the official communication channels. Moser said: “Lord Bethell has consented to a search of three personal email accounts and keywords have been agreed with the claimant. He has also consented to have his personal mobile telephone devices searched”.
The full trial will take place from 6th December.
This comes amidst a multitude of scandals surrounding Hancock. He resigned from his duties as health secretary in June 2021 after photos of him kissing an aide in his government office were published, exposing him for breaching the coronavirus rules he supposedly helped create. The public now awaits the verdict on his handling of the contract awarding process.