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Telegraph vindicated by IPSO over ‘Whatsapp files’ Matt Hancock front page

Hancock complained the 'Lockdown Files' gave an incomplete picture and he was not approached for comment.

By Dominic Ponsford

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has lost an accuracy complaint against the Daily Telegraph over a front-page story based on leaked Whatsapp messages.

Hancock claimed the Whatsapp messages gave only a partial account of government activities during the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020 and the story was therefore misleading. The story claimed Hancock rejected advice from chief medical officer Chris Whitty that there should be Covid testing for all those going into care homes.

The article was based on Whatsapp messages given to Telegraph journalist Isabel Oakeshott by Hancock in order for her to ghostwrite a book with him. Hancock accused Oakeshott of a “massive betrayal” but she insists she acted in the public interest.

The story – headlined: “Hancock rejected Whitty’s advice on care home tests” – was shortlisted for scoop of the year in the 2023 British Journalism Awards.

Matt Hancock: Telegraph’s Lockdown Files gave incomplete picture

In evidence to press regulator IPSO, Hancock said he had not rejected Whitty’s advice but rather, “due to testing capacity, the advice could not be operationalised”.

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He also complained that the article was based on partial material and said that Whatsapp chats were informal, but numerous other meetings would have been going on at the time.

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Hancock also said the newspaper breached the Editors’ Code by failing to contact him for comment in advance of publication.

Rejecting Hancock’s claim that the article was inaccurate, IPSO said: “The committee were of the view that the basis for the headline’s claim that the complainant had “reject[ed]” the scientific advice was clearly set out in the article.

“The article had expressly referenced and had published the relevant Whatsapp messages upon which this claim was based, which made clear the exchanges which had taken place between the complainant and his aides and allowed readers to interpret the content for themselves; it had also provided additional context about testing capacity at the time, which contextualised the complainant’s position on the issue.”

On the right of reply point, IPSO said: “The committee noted that a right or reply or an obligation to contact the subject of the article prior to publication is not an explicit requirement of Clause 1 [of the Editors’ Code], though this may be necessary as part of Clause 1(i)’s requirement to take care over the accuracy of the articles.

“However, where – as noted above – the article did not include any inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information, there was no case to answer under the terms of Clause 1 (i) in relation to the complainant not having been contacted prior to publication.”

Read the Matt Hancock versus Daily Telegraph IPSO ruling in full.

Hancock has previously had two IPSO complaint against the Mirror upheld and one rejected.

IPSO previously memorably ruled that it was not a breach of the Editors’ Code to describe Hancock as a “failed health secretary and cheating husband who broke the lockdown rules he wrote, doubled down on the lies he told, helped enrich his mates via the infamous VIP PPE lane, and couldn’t resist monetising the infamy he acquired as a result of his ineptitude at managing the pandemic”.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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