The mysterious CCTV camera inside a UK government departmental office which caught Matt Hancock’s affair with a close female aide and forced him to step down as health minister has been removed, his successor Sajid Javid said on Monday. The new Health Secretary was asked about the device even as Cabinet ministers ordered a sweep of their departmental offices for hidden cameras.
The government had confirmed on Sunday that it will investigate how the camera came to be placed inside Hancock’s office smoke alarm and also how the footage was leaked in an apparent security breach. “I haven’t disabled the camera that you are talking about, but it has been disabled by the department, Javid told reporters, as he began his new job at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
I think for security it is just common sense I don’t think, as a general rule, there should be cameras in the secretary of state’s office. I’ve never known that in the other five departments that I’ve run and I am not really sure why there was one here. But I am sure there will be more to this as the whole incident is investigated," said the Pakistani-origin politician who has previously held UK Cabinet posts as Home Secretary and Chancellor. Earlier, UK Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News’ he had asked for his office to be swept for “unauthorised devices" because ministers should have a “safe space" to work.
“I know there is CCTV in the building for obvious security reasons, but I am sure that many of my colleagues will be asking the same question and making sure that the offices are swept just in case there are unauthorised devices in there that could be a national security breach," the minister said. The government is also set to be questioned further about “security arrangements relating to ministerial offices and communications" in the House of Commons.
It comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to face questions over his refusal to remove Hancock, who admitted breaching COVID-19 social distancing rules by kissing a colleague outside his household bubble in early May. Johnson had initially accepted Hancock’s apology and said he considered the matter closed. “I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday, and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic," said Johnson when pressed over the issue on Monday.
The Opposition Labour Party has insisted that Hancock should have been sacked immediately after the images of the minister in a compromising position with colleague Gina Coladangelo were published in The Sun’ newspaper on Friday. The publication caused a storm within Hancock’s own Conservative party, resulting in his Cabinet exit on Saturday.
It is understood that the father of three has left his wife of 15 years, Martha, as his relationship with Coladangelo is described as “serious". He has turned down a scheduled 16,000-pound severance payment equivalent to three months’ ministerial salary that he was entitled to on leaving office amid outrage over his actions, which critics believe damage public trust in the government’s pandemic policy.
Meanwhile, Hancock is also accused of potentially breaching ministerial guidelines by using his personal email account for government business. In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary and the Information Commissioner Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded a “full-scale investigation" into whether private emails had been used to discuss government contracts, and if their use might have potentially broken the law.
Official guidelines state that where government business is conducted using private email addresses, steps should be taken “to ensure the relevant information is accessible". Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says there are “huge questions still to answer" for the government.