Matt Hancock: Fury as homes raided in hunt for affair whistle-blowers after CCTV video leak despite YOUR right to know
BRITAIN’S data watchdog was hit by a furious backlash last night after they raided homes in their hunt for the Matt Hancock scandal whistle-blowers.
Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office seized computers and other devices after searching two properties in the south of England.
But their “overkill” probe was branded a menace to the free Press by MPs, campaigners and the public — who said the tipsters should be “given a medal”.
The Information Commissioner’s Office was accused of behaving like the East German Stasi.
Plasterer Craig Wells said: “The whistleblowers should be getting medals for this.”
There were also fears the raids may act as a deterrent to other whistle-blowers — leaving other scandals uncovered as a result.
In a bombshell front-page last month, The Sun revealed CCTV images of married Mr Hancock’s steamy office clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo that broke his own lockdown rules — which triggered his resignation.
A concerned whistle-blower passed us footage of the affair — with the UK’s most senior lawyer declaring our revelation was squarely in the public interest.
While fighting to survive, Mr Hancock’s allies tried to claim the cheating Tory had been targeted by Russian or Chinese spies, or a bug was planted in his office.
Now the leak is subject to an ICO investigation under the Data Protection Act — with the quango relying on little-used powers to conduct their raids yesterday.
But the body was hit by a massive backlash last night, with politicians, campaigners and voters in Mr Hancock’s constituency accusing it of a massive overreaction.
Labour’s Shadow Security Minister Conor McGinn hit out: “This story was clearly in the public interest. Any illegality must be investigated but we need to ensure that whistle-blowers can continue to play their vital part in the keeping organisations accountable.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Sun were right to publish these photos, they were clearly in the public interest. The Sun is also absolutely right to protect its sources.”
Tory Julian Knight, boss of the powerful Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said: “I can’t comment on an investigation in progress but freedom of the Press and their ability where necessary to act in the public interest is a cornerstone of our democracy and we endanger it at our peril.”
Sam Armstrong, of think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: “If a national security leak has indeed been ruled out by police, this is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by a bureaucratic agency to intimidate the source of a story in the public interest.”
Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, which campaigns to protect our rights to privacy and free speech, said: “This is a drastic step by the ICO to intervene in this case which has such obvious public interest.”
Mick Hume, a free speech campaigner, added: “The UK’s ‘data watchdog’ is acting more like a Stasi police dog, launching morning raids on people’s homes and impounding personal computers in its desperation to hunt down the whistle-blower.”
“The Sun’s exposure of the arrogant double-standards of a government minister, who thought strict rules he imposed on others did not apply to him, is in the best tradition of public interest journalism.”
Last night there was growing disquiet within government over the ICO’s heavy-handed tactics.
One Whitehall figure added: “You really have to question whether a quango which spends most of its time fielding complaints about nuisance marketing calls should have the power to kick down doors as if they’re breaking up a major drug smuggling ring”
Another said: “They think they’re the FBI when they’re more like the IT Crowd.”
In Mr Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency, plasterer Mr Wells said: “We’re meant to live in a free society, this is the kind of move you’d expect from a government in China or North Korea. Hancock is not popular round here. This latest move won’t do him any favours.”
Nigel Underwood, 60, added: “When I read that story, I was really pleased he’d been caught out as the hypocrisy was shocking. But straight away I thought, ‘I bet that they’ll go after the whistle-blowers’.
“It’s typical of a government under fire — it’s a classic deflection tactic, they should be ashamed. The whistle-blowers should be given a medal, not persecuted.”
- Matt Hancock affair video as he kisses Gina Coladangelo in his office after checking the coast is clear
- Matt Hancock ‘serious’ about Gina Coladangelo & ‘likely to set up home together’
West Suffolk Tory councillor Ian Houlder said: “Why don’t they put so much effort into questioning Matt Hancock on the other breaches he’s probably made over the past few months? Hancock let the people of his constituency down badly — but now they seem to be more interested in a witch-hunt to find whoever leaked the evidence.
“This search for a whistle-blower is total overkill —- that isn’t what is important.”
ICO director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: “We have an ongoing investigation into criminal matters and will not be commenting further until it is concluded.”