Ambush in Westminster
By TIM HICKS
Non–Essential Journeys #29:
Health Minister resigns over COVID 19 breaches
The Health Minister Matt Hancock has resigned after film from inside the Department of Health and Social Care taken on 6th May by an official camera showing him snogging a member of his staff was published by a national newspaper. The Sun said it obtained the footage from a “concerned whistle-blower”.
This is essentially the same procedure that the NYE has used to obtain photographs of Police Officers breaching the regulations.
This event has a number of serious implications. In my opinion (in no particular order of gravity), these are:
- Hypocrisy: The Health Minister has breached the social distancing guidelines by a) not keeping his mistress more than 2 metres from him or one metre with risk mitigation and b) having an illegal indoor gathering with her. These are guidelines that Mr Hancock has implemented and had enforced on other people by the Police.
- Ministerial code: Mr Hancock was conducting an affair in the office, in work time,with a member of staff during which he was filmed snogging and touching her in a corridor. The Ministerial Code states that Ministers should uphold the highest standards of propriety.
- Conflict of interest:Mr Hancock abused his position as Health Minister to appoint a friend with whom he was intimate, to a job as a non-executive Director in the Health Service, on £15,000 a year for 15 – 20 days’ work.
- Integrity: Mr Hancock had previously criticised Professor Neal Ferguson for breaching the coronavirus regulations by meeting his married lover. He stated publicly that he would not support him because his conduct was indefensible. Yet when he was caught out in far more incriminating circumstances, he initially refused to resign.
- Insincerity: Mr Hancock is a senior public figure from the Conservative Party, which very properly espouses respect for family life and values, has had an affair.
- Security: Official film of a government minister taken by a security camera has been provided to a third party. Two ways you can look at this. Either it was a whistle blower exposing hypocrisy by a public official, or it was a breach of security by a member of the security staff, who may have provided other official information to unauthorised persons. There is an official investigation going on into this and I therefore prefer to say no more.
- Judgment: Mr Hancock is a married man with children, who had an affair with a married woman who also has children. He was not discreet about his relationship and consequently was discovered. This must have caused deep hurt to both spouses and their children. Some would argue that this is a private matter. To some degree I would agree with this and make no comment on the morality or otherwise of Mr Hancock being in a relationship with another woman. In my view, that is a matter for his own conscience and for his wife. But I would argue that the indiscreet way he conducted the relationship –snogging in a corridor covered by security cameras- thereby leaving him open to blackmail, demonstrates a lack of judgment.
One rule for “important people” and one rule for the rest of us
The Health Minister has been ignoring the social distancing guidelines which he implemented and had enforced on other people. Because of this I think he should have been sacked, not been allowed to resign and he should have resigned straight away.
Initially Mr Hancock refused to resign and he was supported in this decision by the Prime Minister and every Conservative Cabinet Minister. His resignation was only brought about by public opinion and media comment.
Mr Hancock’s actions undermined everyone else’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Because of this, his transgression as a minister and a public figure is far worse than those committed by members of the public who have been fined. However, the Metropolitan Police has issued a statement confirming that it will not investigate and fine Mr Hancock or his lover, because it does not investigate COVID-19 breaches “retrospectively”. So Mr Hancock has escaped prosecution and a fine. In my view that is wrong.
Other cases nationally and in North Yorkshire
This is not an isolated incident of a senior public official being caught out in misconduct over the coronavirus regulations and successfully evading prosecution.
The Conservative Political Strategist and Political Advisor the Prime Minister Dominic Cummings escaped prosecution after visiting his parent’s home in Durham twice, a journey of two hundred-and-sixty-four miles each way, at a time when he had COVID-19 symptoms. He is also alleged to have been seen in the picturesque market town of Barnard Castle, thirty miles away from his parents’ home when he should have been self-isolating.
Mike Barton the former Chief Constable of Durham Police quoted in the Guardian here has described the decision not to prosecute Mr Cummings as ‘shameful’:
“It is clear he has broken the rules. It could not be clearer. I cannot think of a worse example of a breach of the lockdown rules. For it then to be defended by the government just beggars belief. What is particularly sad and undermines completely the government position is they seem to be operating in a bubble of self-privilege and denial when they all should be leading by example. ‘Hypocrite’ was invented for these circumstances… Of course it is double standards.”
There are also potential examples from North Yorkshire.
In this Statement of Policy, Chief Constable Lisa Winward lays down the law on the lockdown rules and unnecessary journeys:
“Anyone who thinks this does not apply to them is putting lives at risk. North Yorkshire Police will use all powers we have to stop that, to keep us all safe and to ultimately save lives”.
Stirring stuff indeed.
It is clear from her statement that Chief Constable Winward believes that anyone breaching the lockdown rules is endangering life and should be severely dealt with, using the full weight of the law.
That is until the NYE exposed that Chief Constable Winward may also have undertaken a non-essential journey. This time to Skipton, which -bizarrely for a time of crisis- required two Police Sergeants to look after her.
To be fair, Chief Constable Winward has not revealed why she visited Skipton. But at a time of national emergency, I would expect her to be at Force Headquarters or self-isolating at home. I am not aware of any major incident or emergency at Skipton that is so grave it would require the operational presence of the Chief Constable to control it. Or any other reason that would require “absolutely necessary” travel to Skipton Police Station. So the conclusion is inescapable that her attendance there was unnecessary. Or more precisely, not “absolutely necessary” and risked carrying the infection from Skipton to Force Headquarters or vice versa.
It gets worse.
DCC Cain’s also issued a tweet describing how he defied the police advice and common sense to visit Scarborough Police Station to attend a retirement celebration for a long serving member of staff. A non-essential journey.
DCC Cain made an entirely unnecessary journey from Northallerton to Scarborough to attend a social function that could have been held after the pandemic is over and the lockdown rules have been released. To put that in context, church services, weddings and christenings are more important than police retirement celebrations, but they have all been banned.
DCC Cain then issued a tweet about a couple that were fined for breaking the lockdown rules. In this tweet he states “Two idiots have been fined for breaking lockdown rules by driving to Scarborough to view a second hand car.” This appears to me to be essentially the same behaviour exhibited by DCC Cain and Chief Constable Winward.
Chief Constable Winward and DCC Cain have had these allegations put to them and been provided with the opportunity of responding to these concerns, but have steadfastly refused to do so. Should they wish to issue a denial or clarification, then I am sure the NYE will publish it.
Since that time there have been numerous allegations of Police Officers from North Yorkshire Police breaching the regulations that have been published in the NYE. Yet Chief Constable Winward has refused to investigate them, or complaints against herself or DCC Cain. NYE coverage here.
So there you are. North Yorkshire Police fined three nurses that had travelled to Scarborough to have fish and chips, but routinely refuses to enforce the rules on Police Officers.
Chief Constable Winward has been supported in this policy by Police Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott. PFCC Allott is responsible for holding the Chief Constable to account, but is also refusing to respond to correspondence on the issue.
Maybe someone could explain how this is compatible with open and transparent policing, a police force that is accountable to the public and the Seven Principles of Public Life?
- Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
- Integrity: Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
- Objectivity: Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
- Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
- Openness:Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
- Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.
- Leadership: Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
I can do no better than quote Chief Constable Barton:
“It feels like feudal times. We make the rules and it is for you, the great unwashed, to follow them.”
NYE appeal for information
The NYE will continue to hold Police Officers to account over this issue.
If you become aware of a public figure or police officer breaching the lockdown regulations, please photograph or video him/her and make a note of the:
- Registration no of vehicle.
- If possible, rank and police collar numbers.
- Other circumstances.
Then inform the NYE using the firstname.lastname@example.org email. The NYE will pay a reward for these photographs in accordance with standard journalistic practice.
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