The Perfect Enemy | Isabel Oakeshott: Who is the journalist behind Matt Hancock Covid messages leak? - BBC
April 14, 2024

Isabel Oakeshott: Who is the journalist behind Matt Hancock Covid messages leak? – BBC

Isabel Oakeshott: Who is the journalist behind Matt Hancock Covid messages leak?  BBC

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Following her decision to leak messages sent by Matt Hancock at the height of the Covid pandemic, freelance journalist Isabel Oakeshott finds herself at the centre of a political row – and not for the first time.

In 2015, she co-wrote a biography of David Cameron, Call Me Dave, which included the eye-catching but unsubstantiated claim that the then prime minister had taken part in a lurid initiation ceremony involving a dead pig’s head while at university.

She got another politician in trouble when in 2011 she revealed that Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne had persuaded his wife Vicky Pryce to take his speeding points.

Mr Huhne was subsequently jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice.

A vehement supporter of the UK leaving the EU, she helped millionaire and Brexit campaigner Arron Banks write his account of the referendum campaign entitled The Bad Boys of Brexit.

During the writing of the book, she was given access to Mr Banks’ emails which she later published arguing it was in the public interest to do so.

In 2019, the UK’s ambassador to the United States Sir Kim Darroch was forced to resign after Ms Oakeshott obtained emails in which he was critical of Donald Trump.

In the secret cables, he labelled the then-American President as “inept”, “insecure” and “incompetent”.

‘Marmite journalist’

Ms Oakeshott denied that the story was linked to her relationship with Brexit campaigner Richard Tice, who it had been suggested was keen to get the US ambassador job.

Mr Tice, now leader of the Reform UK Party, tweeted: “Conspiracy theorists who think I want US Ambassador job totally wrong. Ridiculous suggestion! But other senior pro Brexit businessperson would do great job promoting U.K. and securing quick trade deal.”

Before her relationship with Mr Tice, Ms Oakeshott had three children from a previous marriage.

Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott standing together, both smiling at the camera and holding a copy of Mr Hancock's book between them

Andrew Parsons/Parsons Media

She started out as a reporter at the East Lothian Courier and rose to become the first female political editor at the Sunday Times, and later editor-at-large at the Daily Mail.

She has also written several books including three with the Conservative donor and former member of the House of Lords Michael Ashcroft about UK defence, the NHS and the biography of David Cameron.

Mr Ashcroft owns Biteback, the company which published Mr Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries.

Fellow journalist and Talk TV broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer describes Ms Oakeshott as a “marmite journalist”.

“Some love to love her, some love to hate her, everyone has an opinion but she is a damn good journalist – she gets scoops.”

Lockdown critic

The Guardian’s Media Editor Jim Waterson said Conservative officials have been “astonished Matt Hancock decided to give all of his personal messages to someone who very publicly opposed most of his policy platform when it came to lockdown”.

Lord Bethell, a health minister during the pandemic, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think Isabel is a terrific journalist. She’s not a very good friend.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, she became a fierce critic of lockdown rules.

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Writing in the Spectator last year she said: “My blood still boils when I think of the unnecessary suffering: the broken homes and broken businesses; the lost last moments with loved ones; the missed cancers and operations; a generation of children scarred forever.

“This country paid a catastrophic price for what I see as a reckless overreaction to a disease that was only life-threatening to a small number of people who could have been protected without imprisoning the entire population.”

She acknowledged some would be surprised by her decision to work with Mr Hancock on his book, Pandemic Diaries, but said she was driven by a desire to “get to the truth”.

She also said she was “not paid a penny for this work” but added: “The time I spent on the project – almost a year – was richly rewarding in other ways.”

In the past few days she has strongly defended her decision to publish texts given to her during the writing of the book saying it was in the “overwhelming national interest”.

Mr Hancock, however has accused her of a “massive betrayal”.

She has not revealed how much she has been paid by The Telegraph for the “lockdown files” stories.

But she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Anyone who thinks I did this for money must be utterly insane.”

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The WhatsApp leaks

A collection of more than 100,000 messages sent between former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers and officials at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic have been obtained by the Telegraph. Here are our stories on the leaks:

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