Freedom of Information: News

Hancock’s official Covid diaries ‘not in public interest’, government says

Exclusive: The health department has again refused to publish Matt Hancock's official diary – despite WhatsApp leaks

Jenna Corderoy
Jenna Corderoy
7 March 2023, 6.14pm
The government is still refusing to publish Matt Hancock's ministerial diaries
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Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The government has issued a fresh refusal to publish Matt Hancock’s official ministerial diaries from the pandemic, saying there is “no justifiable public interest”.

The decision comes despite a mass leak of the former health secretary’s WhatsApp messages, which have revealed how politicians and officials operated when Covid-19 gripped the country.

Hancock himself has also published a personal memoir about the period. But Freedom of Information requests by openDemocracy for copies of his official schedule of meetings have been repeatedly rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

openDemocracy has been fighting for access to his ministerial diaries for two years, but government officials have claimed that our requests are “vexatious”.

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The latest refusal, issued yesterday, relates to a period of just six weeks at the start of the pandemic. DHSC claimed that our request did not have a “serious value or purpose”.

Families who lost loved ones during the pandemic have previously called the refusal to release Hancock’s official ministerial diaries “as disgraceful as it is farcical”.

The decision to withhold Hancock’s diaries comes despite other departments being willing to release ministerial diaries. Last year, the Department for Education released part of former education secretary Gavin Williamson’s diaries, which revealed a series of previously undisclosed meetings and calls.

openDemocracy has submitted multiple appeals to the information rights watchdog over government refusals to release the diaries

openDemocracy also obtained ministerial diaries from Dominic Raab’s time as foreign secretary during the 2021 Afghanistan crisis. Raab had previously defended his decision to go on holiday as the Taliban advanced on Kabul, saying he continued working from a luxury seaside resort. But his diaries revealed that his workload was significantly reduced around that time.

Hancock’s diaries could provide further insight into how the government responded to the outbreak of Covid and sourced personal protective equipment (PPE).

openDemocracy has submitted multiple appeals to the information rights watchdog over government refusals to release the diaries.

Last February, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) supported our call for the release of Thérèse Coffey’s ministerial diaries, covering March and April 2020 – the same period that the request for Hancock’s diaries covers.

In its ruling, the ICO said that the Department for Work & Pensions was wrong to deem openDemocracy’s request as vexatious and said it did not accept that it was a burden on the government resources. “There is a legitimate interest in the disclosure of ministerial diaries,” it said.

And openDemocracy also complained to the ICO over the Department for Transport’s refusal to release parts of Grant Shapps’ ministerial diaries. When the ICO launched an investigation, the department changed its mind and decided to publish the documents.

openDemocracy has challenged the DHSC’s latest refusal to withhold Matt Hancock’s diaries and requested an internal review into the decision.

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