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The press watchdog has ruled it was not inaccurate to refer to Matt Hancock as a “failed health secretary and cheating husband who broke the lockdown rules he wrote”.
The Daily Mirror piece from November 2022 was among four articles the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) has said did not breach the accuracy clause of the editors’ code of practice, after it investigated a complaint made by Hancock.
It said the article by Dr Rachel Clarke, which ran under the headline “Matt Hancock is no jungle hero, he’s a lying cheat who threw us all to the wolves” was a “tongue-in-cheek opinion piece, which was strongly critical of the complainant and written in a polemical style”.
Ipso also dismissed Hancock’s complaints in respect of three other articles in the same paper. In one, a brief summary of his career, it was reported that he “presided over PPE contracts being handed out to acquaintances of ministers and officials, including his ex-pub landlord” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In another, the paper described Hancock’s “blunders” as health secretary – including that he “[b]roke ministerial code by failing to declare he held shares in a family firm that won an NHS contract”.
And, in another, the paper carried an interview with a trade union leader, who said: “Matt Hancock might have gone into the jungle seeking forgiveness, but some of us won’t forget […] We won’t forget who those contracts went to. It’s disgusting.”
Ipso found none of the articles to be significantly misleading under the editor’s code of practice.
Hancock had demanded an apology and written corrections accepting the articles were inaccurate. He said the Daily Mirror should also “offer an assurance that the same information would not be repeated in further coverage” and called for the newspaper’s publisher to “remove all references [to] this false narrative from all historic articles from the [publisher] group”.
Hancock argued the articles were inaccurate and misleading because he did not “decide, price or sign off government Covid contracts”. He argued that it would have been accurate to say the civil service did so, and to note that the civil service was independent of government ministers.
In respect of the pub landlord referred to by the Daily Mirror, Hancock argued they had been awarded a subcontract for which he had no responsibility.
And he said an article that referred to the adviser on ministers’ interests finding that he breached the ministerial code by failing to declare he held shares in a family firm that won an NHS contract should have been further balanced with the adviser’s comment that he had acted “properly and honestly” and “with integrity throughout” the investigation.
The Mirror said that, as health secretary, the oversight of such contracts was Hancock’s legal responsibility. Ipso rejected Hancock’s claims. According to Politico, Hancock’s office has argued the official Covid inquiry will be the final arbiter of all these issues.