The great betrayal: How journalist Isabel Oakeshott leaked Matt Hancock’s WhatsApps after they worked together on his book for a year
- Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott worked together on The Pandemic Diaries
- The Telegraph’s coverage of WhatsApp messages casts Hancock in a bad light
Beaming at the launch party for their book, Matt Hancock and his co-author Isabel Oakeshott looked every inch the power duo.
They were the toast of the gathering of political luminaries in the great hall of the Science Museum as the former Health Secretary’s pandemic diaries were unveiled.
It was the culmination of a year’s secret collaboration between the pair.
Mr Hancock had entrusted a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes secrets to the author and political journalist, and she had helped him craft his explosive insider account of the Covid crisis.
Yet behind her smiles at the launch party on December 5, was Miss Oakeshott – a journalist with a controversial history – even then plotting to audaciously double-cross her writing partner?
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and author Isabel Oakeshott at the launch party of their book Pandemic Diaries
Matt Hancock became tearful when the vaccine was rolled out in December 2020 on Good Morning Britain
The ink was barely dry on the book, in which Mr Hancock penned a gushing tribute to Miss Oakeshott’s writing prowess and her ‘tenacity at getting me to remember the most telling detail’, when she decided there were further riches to be wrung from the 100,000 private WhatsApp messages Mr Hancock had handed over to her.
As she herself boasted in a Spectator article the same month: ‘Hancock shared far more than I could ever have imagined. I have viewed thousands and thousands of sensitive government communications relating to the pandemic, a fascinating and very illuminating exercise. I was not paid a penny for this work, but the time I spent on the project – almost a year – was richly rewarding in other ways.’
And today, as the material was splurged over seven pages of the Daily Telegraph, Miss Oakeshott admitted there was ‘no secret’ about how all the sensitive material came into her possession.
She wrote how she and Mr Hancock had drawn heavily on the messages to reconstruct his day-by-day account, adding: ‘Suffice to say, there was plenty of important material left over.’
To make matters more toxic, the Telegraph’s coverage of the WhatsApp messages casts Mr Hancock in a less favourable light than his own version of events in his book.
It left the blindsided ex-Cabinet minister seething at her betrayal yesterday, reportedly vowing to sue Miss Oakeshott for breaching his confidences. Allies of Mr Hancock accused her of breaking a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to sell ‘stolen’ messages which had been sent to her ‘for one purpose only’, to be part of her work on his diaries. ‘Her behaviour is outrageous,’ said one.
But privately many Tory MPs and political journalists expressed astonishment that Mr Hancock had entrusted millions of words of his private correspondence to Miss Oakeshott, of all people.
One political journalist said: ‘The man needs his head testing to have gone near Oakeshott with a flaming trebuchet, let alone a bargepole.’
Mr Hancock took part in ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’ last November
For a while Mr Hancock may belatedly be regretting his association with Miss Oakeshott, it is not the first time she has been at the centre of a controversy over a source placing their trust in her.
When she was political editor of The Sunday Times, in 2011, she persuaded Vicky Pryce – the former wife of Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne – to reveal how she had conspired with him to avoid a motoring fine for a speeding offence.
As a result of the story – and the newspaper and Miss Oakeshott giving up correspondence which exposed their source – Miss Pryce ended up in jail, as did her ex-husband.
Despite the convention that journalists should always do their utmost to protect their sources, Miss Oakeshott stood by her decision to hand over the material, saying she had warned Miss Pryce of the legal risks and insisting it was ‘not my job to provide expert criminal advice’.
Lord Bethell, a former ministerial colleague of Mr Hancock, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think Isabel is a terrific journalist. She’s not a very good friend.’
Westminster-born mother-of-three Miss Oakeshott, 48, began her career on local newspapers and worked her way up to The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, winning several journalism awards for her scoops.
Neither she nor Biteback Publishing – which published Mr Hancock’s pandemic book – have commented on the claim she broke a non-disclosure agreement.
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