Police ‘won’t be surprised’ at the tone of Matt Hancock’s leaked messages discussing the need to ‘get heavy’ with officers over the enforcement of lockdown rules, a former chief constable said today.
Private WhatsApp messages, revealed yesterday, also disclose how the then health secretary gave officers ‘their marching orders’ to enforce restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said the approach taken by Mr Hancock and other ministers during the pandemic caused ‘huge resentment’ within the ranks.
‘I think lots of people in the police service won’t be surprised at the tone of these remarks,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘There was this constant confusion between what was legislation and what was guidance. Often it seemed ministers themselves didn’t understand the impact of the legislation.’
It caused ‘huge resentment within policing’ when cases of officers ‘trying to do their best’ were ‘highlighted and misunderstood’, he said.
The Government must ‘get heavy with the police’ to make them crack down on lockdown rule-breakers, Matt Hancock said during the pandemic
Leaked private WhatsApp messages show Matt Hancock telling Simon Case, the then permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, about the need to ‘get heavy’ with the police
Mr Hancock made the comment about giving officers ‘their marching orders’ days before No 10 staff held an illicit party at Downing Street.
The leaked texts to The Daily Telegraph also reveal that senior officers were hauled into No 10 to be told they should be stricter with the public.
This is despite ministers claiming at the time that the police were operationally independent of the Government.
On August 28, 2020, Simon Case, the then permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, asked Mr Hancock: ‘Who is actually delivering enforcement?’
Mr Hancock replied: ‘I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police.’
After a meeting on January 10, 2021, one week after England entered its third national lockdown, Mr Hancock texted about how ‘the plod got their marching orders’.
The meeting was attended by Boris Johnson, then home secretary Priti Patel and Mr Case, who is now the Cabinet Secretary.
On January 14, a gathering was held in No 10 to mark the departure of two private secretaries. The Metropolitan Police later said this event breached the rules in place at the time.
It also emerged that Mr Johnson feared he had ‘blinked too soon’ by plunging Britain into a second lockdown during the pandemic.
The then prime minister made the observation in private messages after being told that modelling he had been shown predicting death numbers was ‘very wrong’.
Derbyshire Police were among the forces who raised eyebrows for their zealous enforcement of lockdown rules, including sharing drone footage of people walking their dogs in the Peak District in 2020
Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said the approach taken by Mr Hancock and other ministers during the pandemic caused ‘huge resentment’
The messages, leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was a ghost-writer on Mr Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries, show he expressed the fear on November 1, 2020, a day after he announced a national lockdown would come into force a few days later.
Despite his fears, the lockdown went ahead and lasted for a month.
The messages raise fresh questions about whether ministers were making decisions about curbing people’s freedoms based on the science, as they always insisted.
It also raises the prospect that people were forced to abide by draconian restrictions for more time than was necessary.
In one message on November 1 that year, Mr Johnson said he had held an online conference call with scientists Dr Raghib Ali and Dr Carl Heneghan.
.Jessica Allen and her friend Eliza Moore were given £200 fines by police in January 2021 after strolling with coffees by Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire. The fines were later dropped
He told those in the messaging group that Dr Heneghan had said ‘the death modelling you have been shown is already very wrong’ because it was out of date due to having been drawn up three weeks previously.
The previous day, Mr Johnson had announced an impending national lockdown, justifying the decision by pointing to public modelling that 4,000 people could die daily without action.
But this data projected what could happen in the event of no restrictions being ordered.
The then PM shared a link in the exchanges suggesting that the modelling was out by a factor of four, with a newer Cambridge study suggesting 1,000 deaths a day would occur.
Referring to the idea that ministers could be criticised for announcing a lockdown too early, Mr Johnson wrote: ‘The attack is going to be that we blinked too soon.’
Police speak to drivers at Tynemouth beach after it was closed during lockdown in March 2020
Previous messages reveal how Mr Johnson was told that lifting curbs earlier than planned was not in line with what the public wanted.
A message Mr Johnson sent to Mr Hancock on June 6, 2020, said he was ‘thinking hard about the 15th June’.
On June 15, ministers were planning on opening non-essential retail premises.
But Mr Johnson’s message suggested he wanted to go further and remove more restrictions.
However, he was warned by his senior media advisers Lee Cain and James Slack not to do so.
Mr Johnson said they ‘still think the whole package will be too far ahead of public opinion’.