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The chairman of the official coronavirus inquiry has criticized the Cabinet Office for suppressing politically sensitive content about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic.
Baroness Hallett has asked the government to hand over 24 notebooks containing handwritten notes by Johnson during the two years at the height of the pandemic, but officials said they were not directly related to her investigation. Stated.
Diaries, WhatsApp messages and email details revealing how the former prime minister responded to the virus and restrictions were understood to have been redacted by Cabinet Office officials before being turned over to Baroness Hallett’s investigative team. there is
Among the WhatsApp messages requested in the public inquiry is one sent by Henry Cook, Johnson’s No. 10 adviser and a close friend of his wife, Carrie Johnson.
The investigation seeks messages, group chats and other communications between Cook and a series of cabinet ministers and officials. They included Dominic Cummings, Rishi Snack, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and Penny Mordaunt.
Messages from Chief Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty, then Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance and former NHS Secretary Simon Stevens are also featured.
Mrs. Hallett said in a letter to the Cabinet Office that the content should not have been removed before it was handed over.
The edited content includes statements made within the government during the Sarah Everard protests, and Johnson’s absence from the Cobra conference in February 2020, when the outbreak began. This includes whether they were taken seriously enough.
The Cabinet Office denied Mrs. Hallett’s request for uncensored documents, but she dismissed legal arguments and exercised all of her statutory powers to issue a so-called Article 21 notice demanding full access.
Failure to comply with this notice is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to £1000 or imprisonment for a maximum of 51 weeks.
The investigative team assessed Johnson’s deaths between January 1, 2020, when the first reports of the virus emerged from Wuhan, China, and February 24, 2022, around the time the Johnson government scaled back its main response to the pandemic. I asked for the submission of the official diary. .
Lady Hallett’s team also requested “clean, unedited form, except for only the edits that were applied.”
“Twenty-four notebooks, including contemporaneous memos made by former prime ministers,” for reasons of national security secrecy.
The existence of hundreds of handwritten notes made by Johnson during the pandemic was previously undisclosed.
Mrs Hallett said the Cabinet Office had not released “important documents” including “discussions between the Prime Minister and advisers on the enforcement of new coronavirus restrictions by the Metropolitan Police during public demonstrations following the murder of Sarah Everard”. He made it clear that he was dissatisfied.
In her letter, the Court of Appeal judge clarified that it was for her and her team, not the government, to determine the document’s relevance.
Mrs Hallett said that “it may be contextually necessary to understand other (superficially unrelated) political issues” that ministers were concerned about at the time.
Her letter includes explicit hints that she may investigate allegations that cabinet members, including Johnson, were focusing on issues other than the coronavirus. The former prime minister has been accused of not attending an emergency Cobra conference on the pandemic when it started in early 2020.
“Where I think, or even suggest that a minister has addressed COVID-19 related issues inappropriately because he was (perhaps inappropriately) focused on other issues, such issues are more likely to be addressed. It could be important,” she wrote.
The Cabinet Office initially said the content was “clearly irrelevant” to her investigation. she added: “Those edits have now been removed (just recently), but it wasn’t a bright start.”
The inquiry, which will begin hearings next month, has received millions of documents from the government and other sources.
The letter marks a new twist in the story of Johnson’s evidence against the investigation. The former prime minister was referred to police by the cabinet office on new allegations that he violated lockdown rules during the pandemic.
officials said I: “The Cabinet Office claims that the cuts did not include any relevance.
“The chairman emphasizes the complete nonsense in her sentence. For example, an edited WhatsApp message said at the time about the Metropolitan Police’s enforcement of novel coronavirus restrictions during public demonstrations following the murder of Sarah Everard. It included discussions between Prime Minister Johnson and his advisers.’ They basically recanted what was politically embarrassing. ”
The letter also implicitly criticizes Johnson for missing the Cobra meeting early in the pandemic amid growing “public concerns about how seriously the prime minister was taking this,” the people said.
Dan Paskins, UK Impact Director for Save the Children UK, said: “This is exactly the right move by Baroness Hallett, Head of the Coronavirus Commission.” Families with children devastated by the pandemic deserve a fully transparent investigation.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s communications are crucial to understanding how and why decisions were made. ”
TUC Assistant General Secretary Kate Bell said: “The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in the UK, including millions of workers who are putting their lives at risk.
“The bare minimum we all deserve is the openness and transparency of those who make the decisions. The lessons we have to learn from this pandemic are too important for governments to deal with politics.”
Libka Getlib, spokesperson for the COVID-19 Survivors Group for British Justice said: “This investigation needs to bring out the facts so that lessons can be learned to save lives in the next pandemic,” she said. At this time, the Cabinet Office.
“It’s outrageous that they think they can dictate an independent investigation into which of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages can be viewed. Yesterday’s revelation that he broke lockdown rules. And I really fear the worst of what they’re hiding.”
An official spokesperson for Rishi Sunak defended the Cabinet Office’s decision.
“The principle at issue here relates to the disclosure of material that is clearly unrelated to the investigative work. WhatsApps and others related to different areas,” they said.
“Given the potential for this to set a precedent and adversely affect future policy-making, our position is that the investigation has no power to compel the government to disclose material that is apparently irrelevant.”
Asked whether the decision to challenge Mrs. Hallett’s legal order was made by Sunak personally or by a Cabinet Office minister, a spokesperson said: “We understand that it is a Cabinet Office decision. I have.”