politics

Covid victims' grieving families say Hancock should be sacked over affair claims


Grieving families of coronavirus victims have slammed Matt Hancock after he was pictured kissing his closest adviser at his Whitehall office.

Hannah Brady, whose father Shaun died aged 55 after contracting Covid-19, said the Health Secretary “has treated bereaved families with contempt” during the pandemic and should have been sacked already for his failures.

She said Boris Johnson’s decision not to sack Mr Hancock is a “slap in the face” to the tens of thousands British families who have lost loved ones during the coronavirus crisis.

Married dad-of-three Mr Hancock, 42, apologised for breaking social distancing rules but resisted calls to resign as he was accused of having an affair with married mum-of-three Gina Coladangelo, 43, a close aide and old university friend who he appointed in his office at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).



Hannah Brady with her dad Shaun, who died from Covid-19 last year
Hannah Brady pictured with her dad Shaun, who died at the age of 55 after contracting coronavirus

Mr Johnson rejected calls to sack the Health Secretary, with a Downing Street spokesman saying the Prime Minister had accepted Mr Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”.

Ms Brady, who has written to the Prime Minister on behalf of the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, told the Mirror: “Up and down the country, bereaved families have been doing everything they can to follow the rules and prevent further loss of life.

“But it’s clear Matt Hancock thought that ‘hands, face, space’ was a rule for everyone else.

“For bereaved families to know that the man responsible for public health in this country, was ignoring the rules whilst we were unable to hug friends and family at our loved ones funerals, is heartbreaking.”

Ms Brady, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, added: “For Boris Johnson to keep him in his position is a slap in the face to bereaved families.

“He himself described Hancock as “f***ing hopeless’ over a year ago, even before he went on to disastrously handle PPE, care homes, Test and Trace and ultimately oversee the deaths of 150,000 people.

“Hancock has treated bereaved families with contempt.



Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street with aide Gina Coladangelo
Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street with aide Gina Coladangelo in May last year

“He’s got to go and he should have gone a long time ago.”

The families’ damning letter to the Prime Minister calls Matt Hancock’s position as the Health Secretary “an embarrassment to the Government”.

Adding that the bereaved had never before called for a minister to resign, the letter adds: “Our position of neutrality regarding ministerial conduct is no longer tenable, and neither is Matt Hancocks position as Health Secretary.

“If Matt Hancock is unable to find the decency to do the right thing and resign his position, it is paramount that you relieve him from it.”

Rivka Gottlieb, whose father Michael, 73, died from the virus, agreed, saying: “It’s just extraordinary he’s still in the post.



Hannah Brady, whose father Shaun Brady, aged 55, died from coronavirus
Ms Brady says the Health Secretary “has treated bereaved families with contempt”

“With this story he’s lost any shred of credibility he had left after what was already a highly questionable performance.

“The question now is why would anyone take him seriously?

“It really does feel like another slap in the face. I think I speak for a lot of bereaved families when I say that.

“I have no faith whatsoever in this Government. It’s no surprise to me that Johnson accepted Hancock’s apology and at the same it’s a bitter disappointment.”

Ms Gottlieb, 49 and from London, rejected Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ suggestion that Hancock kissing an aide at work is a private matter.

She said: “It’s not a private matter when he’s the Health Secretary breaching social distancing rules.”

Safiah Ngah, 28, from Islington, London, lost her father Zahari Ngah, 68, to Covid in January.

Mr Ngah was a clinical psychotherapist who had never been to hospital before in his life.

He was hospitalised after discovering blood in his phlegm, and told his family in video calls that he feared the long-term health effects of being intubated, but later changed his mind.



Covid victim Zahari Ngah
Zahari Ngah, 68, was described as a generous man who even tried to organise Unicef donations from his hospital bed

His wife was allowed to visit him in the days before he died.

Safiya said: “It was a real shock. He really was the most amazing person, he was a psychotherapist, he had worked for the NHS for more than 40 years. He worked with refugees and torture victims.

“Even when he was in hospital he was reminding us to send money for the Unicef Yemen appeal and to send a song for Grenfell. He really was an amazing person.”

She said she was “disgusted but not particularly surprised” to see Mr Hancock break Covid rules – saying government figures seemed not to take the restrictions seriously.



Zahari Ngah, 68, with wife Barbara Ngah, and their children Safiya and Rory Ngah.
Zahari Ngah, 68, leaves behind wife Barbara Ngah, and children Safiya and Rory Ngah

“With Matt Hancock it’s even more disappointing that he’s health secretary and his mistress was an aide whose salary is being paid by the taxpayer,” she said.

“We’ve seen already that the Prime Minister is happy for ‘bodies to pile up in their thousands’. It’s example after example.

“It’s like they think nothing will stick and to be honest, it looks like it doesn’t”

Safiya said she herself had seen the scale of Covid devastation.

She was disturbed at the amount of freshly turned earth at the cemetery in Redbridge, east London, where her father, a devout Malay Muslim, was buried.

“My dad was Muslim and he was buried at a Muslim section of the cemetery in Ilford,'” she said.

“We know that Covid disproportionately affected people from minority-ethnic groups, but the scale really was eye-opening when we visited the cemetery.

“It was like war graves – it was really quite shocking.”



Safiya took this photo at her father's gravesite - shocked at the scale of new burials in the Muslim section after the winter Covid wave
Safiya took this photo at her father’s gravesite – shocked at the scale of new burials in the Muslim section after the winter Covid wave

Lobby Akinnola, 30, lost his father Femi Akinnola, 60, to Covid last April just weeks after lockdown began.

The father-of-five of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, had been working on the front-lines as a support worker for the charity Mencap, which helps intellectually disabled people.

At that time, frontline workers like Mr Akinnola were going into work every day without PPE as the government had failed to secure enough protective wear, Lobby recalled.

Brits were still being told to “wash their hands” to protect against the virus, but Mr Akinnola, a semi-retired former engineer, was busy reading early academic papers on the emerging threat and immediately recognised it as an airborne virus.



Zahari and Barbara Ngah, from Islington, north London
Zahari and Barbara Ngah, from Islington, north London

He began wearing a scarf around his face at work and bringing his winter gloves long before the UK government even considered face mask rules, his son said.

“The last text I got from him he was saying ‘please, please, be serious with this’,” he said.

“To me, this was a kind of virus and if an engineer in the middle of the West Midlands has the wherewithal to wear his scarf and gloves at work, then why couldn’t the government see it?”

Lobby said he was angered by Mr Hancock’s part in a pattern of “cronyism” in the Tory ranks.

He said: “He seems to surround himself with his friends and is that the best way to tackle the pandemic? Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. There’s that question of ‘are you guys taking this seriously?’

“We’ve put our trust in you, we’ve given you our money, we’ve put our lives in your hands, and it does not seem like you’re taking this as seriously as you should be.”

It was an “unbelievable level of hypocrisy” for a Health Secretary to break the same rules he was telling the country to follow, Mr Akinnola said.



Lobby Akinnola and his dad Femi Akinnola
Lobby Akinnola, 30, was in London when his mum called to tell him his beloved dad Femi Akinnola had stopped breathing

His family had only been able to have six people to the funeral for his father, a popular church-going man with many siblings and friends forced to miss out.

Lobby said he felt the government had repeatedly failed to take the virus seriously.

His dad had been fit and healthy with no prior conditions, and had been advised by NHS111 to stay home and recover even after he found blood in his phlegm.

Mr Akinnola self-isolated in the lounge and refused to speak in fear of spreading the virus by talking at close-quarters – months before the UK government recognised officially that was how the deadly virus worked.

“The man was not even speaking to his family, because he was concerned about aerial spread,” Lobby recalled.

On medical advice, he was sleeping upright in an armchair to help his lungs drain, while texting his wife and children updates.

The day before he died, he had seemed to be improving, Lobby recalled.

It was a Sunday morning when his mother came downstairs to find her husband sitting upright with his head tilted at an unnatural angle.

Lobby recalls her screaming as she phoned him in London, while the family’s desperate attempts to deliver CPR could not save him.

He said: “I never saw my dad. I never saw him alive again.

“I know this happened much more recently- but it’s just that idea of this government saying ‘we’re getting these cases because, people aren’t social-distancing or not isolating.’

“But Matt Hancock is apparently having an affair with his aide in direct contravention of the rules we have been accused of breaking?”



Covid victim Femi Akinnola, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Femi Akinnola, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, died in the first wave last April

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Mr Hancock, who has been married to his wife Martha Hancock for 15 years, was criticised as “totally f***ing hopeless” by Mr Johnson in text messages recently revealed by the PM’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings.

Mr Cummings has said Mr Hancock should have been fired over coronavirus failings and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on the testing target



Matt Hancock and his wife Martha attend the VO5 NME Awards
Matt Hancock and his wife Martha Hancock have been married for 15 years

The Health Secretary has been accused of failing care home patients with botched testing, wasting millions on PPE that wasn’t fit for use, and squandering billions on the Test and Trace system.

He has also faced sleaze allegations over a lucrative Covid test contract worth millions that was awarded to his former neighbour Alex Bourne – though the DHSC has said said “there is no evidence” that Mr Bourne’s firm got preferential treatment.

Mr Hancock defended the claims made by the PM’s former aide, saying the allegations were “unproven” and it was “telling that no evidence has been provided”.

CCTV images showing Mr Hancock and Mrs Coladangelo kissing inside the Department of Health’s headquarters in Whitehall have prompted fresh questions about her appointment in March last year.

The kiss is said to have occurred on May 6, a time when the Government’s coronavirus lockdown rules prohibited hugging between people from different households or who weren’t in a support bubble.

Days later, Mr Hancock advised people in England to be “careful” when hugging others as the Government prepared to lift restrictions on physical contact.



Oliver Tress and Gina Coladangelo attend the launch of designer and entrepreneur Tabitha Webb's first retail store
Mrs Coladangelo and her husband, Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress, attend an event in 2014

At the time, he said he planned to hug his parents when the ban ended after more than a year, but said he would do so outside in a bid to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The affair allegations has also raised fresh concerns about Mr Hancock’s focus on the UK’s battle against coronavirus, and sparked accusations of hypocrisy after he roundly condemned Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the Government’s leading advisers on the pandemic, when it emerged last year that he had met his lover in breach of lockdown rules.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Hancock apologised for breaking social distancing rules, but made clear he intends to resist calls for his resignation.

In a brief statement, he said he is “very sorry” that he has let people down, but that he remains focused on his job tackling the pandemic.

“I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances, I have let people down and am very sorry,” he said.



Health Secretary Matt Hancock looks at the phone of his aide Gina Coladangelo as they leave the BBC
Mr Hancock looks at Mrs Coladangelo’s phone as they leave the BBC on June 6

“I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter.”

The CCTV images were obtained by the Sun, which quoted an unnamed source as claiming: “Everyone knows what goes on inside a building like that.

“I’m just amazed he was so brazen about it as he was the Secretary of State.

“It has also shocked people because he put her in such an important, publicly-funded role and this is what they get up to.”

Mr Hancock previously faced questions over claims he “secretly” appointed Mrs Coladangelo as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health on a six-month contract in March last year.

The government insists the appointment was “made in the usual way and followed correct procedure”.


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They first met at the student radio station at Oxford University in the early 2000s.

She was appointed as a non-executive director at the department in September, meaning she is a member of the board.

The Mirror understands Mrs Coladangelo is paid £15,000 a year in that role, in which she sits on the department’s board alongside top experts including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

Because she was only appointed in the last year, her pay has not yet been published in annual accounts, but non-executive board members have previously received around £15,000 a year in fees and it’s understood she is in the same situation.

Claims of ‘chumocracy’ emerged in November when it was revealed Mrs Coladangelo was attending confidential meetings.



Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves the BBC with aide Gina Coladangelo after appearing on The Andrew Marr Show
Mr Hancock, pictured with Mrs Coladangelo on June 6, has apologised for breaking social distancing rules

A Department of Health spokesperson said the appointment was “made in the usual way and followed correct procedure”.

Mrs Coladangelo is the marketing and communications director at Oliver Bonas, a British retailer founded by her husband, Oliver Tress.

She is a director and a major shareholder of the London-based lobbying and public relations firm Luther Pendragon, which offers clients a “deep understanding of the mechanics of government”.

During a testy briefing for journalists at Westminster, a No 10 spokesman repeatedly stonewalled in the face of reporters’ question.

The spokesman insisted the “correct procedure” had been followed in relation Ms Coladangelo’s appointment but refused to go into detail or to say whether Mr Hancock had declared their relationship to senior officials at the DHSC.



Health Secretary Matt Hancock with adviser Gina Coladangelo outside BBC
Mr Hancock and Mrs Coladangelo first met at a student radio station at Oxford University in the early 2000s

Pressed repeatedly on whether their breach of social distancing rules amounted to a breach of the law, the spokesman said: “I point you to the Health Secretary’s statement. I have nothing to add to that.”

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said if Mr Hancock had been secretly having a relationship with an adviser he appointed to a taxpayer-funded role, it was “a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”.

She said his admission that he had breached the rules on social distancing meant his position in office was no longer tenable.

“He set the rules. He admits he broke them. He has to go. If he won’t resign, the PM should sack him,” she said.

The row carries echoes of the political storm which erupted last year when Mr Johnson’s then top adviser Dominic Cummings made his infamous trip to Castle Barnard in County Durham in apparent breach of lockdown rules.

On that occasion, the Prime Minister resisted calls for Mr Cummings to be sacked despite widespread public anger over his actions.

Mr Johnson also rejected calls to fire Home Secretary Priti Patel when she was found to have bullied civil servants working for her, and he appears to be determined to do the same with Mr Hancock.





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