Ministers and the country’s most senior civil servant discussed how they needed to “get heavy with the police” to crack down on the public during the Covid pandemic.
WhatsApp messages in The Lockdown Files disclose how Matt Hancock and colleagues gave officers their “marching orders” to enforce lockdown measures – days before Number 10 staff held a party in Downing Street.
Despite ministers claiming in public that the police are operationally independent of the Government, the leaked messages reveal that senior officers were hauled into Number 10 to be told they should be stricter with the public.
The first conversation took place in late August 2020 after Simon Case, then a permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, asked Mr Hancock, the then health secretary:
The leaked messages also show that the pair again returned to their fears that police were failing to crack down on alleged lockdown breaches.
After a meeting on Jan 10, 2021, shortly after another lockdown had begun, Mr Hancock wrote to Mr Case:
Mr Case replied to the message but did not address the comment about the police.
The revelations about political pressure on the police come on the third day of the Lockdown Files, in which The Telegraph has revealed details from more than 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages from Mr Hancock during the pandemic.
The files disclose how Boris Johnson was worried that he had “blinked too soon” in plunging Britain into a second national lockdown on the basis of data that scientists had warned him was “very wrong”.
The then prime minister had also considered lifting some lockdown restrictions earlier than previously planned in June 2020, but decided against it after being told by his media advisers that doing so would be “too far ahead of public opinion”.
Separate messages show Mr Hancock’s aides asking if they could “lock up” Nigel Farage after he tweeted a photo of him drinking a pint of beer in a pub in an apparent breach of quarantine rules.
Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings employed the help of a Conservative elections mastermind to convince Cabinet ministers that the public backed lockdowns.
The revelations have rocked Westminster and cast fresh scrutiny on the official Covid inquiry, which has been beset by delays.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesman was forced to distance himself from comments made by Gavin Williamson, revealed by The Telegraph on Wednesday, that suggested he thought teachers were lazy, stressing that he “hugely values… hard-working teachers”.
Anne Longfield, the former children’s commissioner, said the leaks on school closures showed Mr Hancock “overlooked” pupils during Covid as he fought to keep them shuttered.
The messages in the latest revelations also show ministers and officials celebrating police cracking down on Covid rule-breakers and the implementation of other hardline rules.
Mr Case joked with Mr Hancock in February 2021 about the public being kept in quarantine hotels to avoid a fine.
The next month, as concern mounted about importing cases of the virus from abroad, Boris Johnson said it was “superb” that two people had been fined £10,000 for returning from Dubai without quarantining.
The disclosures will raise concerns about police independence, enshrined in law as a “fundamental principle of British policing” and used by ministers to avoid commenting on Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle in March 2020.
Heavy-handed policing was one of the most controversial issues of the pandemic and saw members of the public fined for going for a walk with a cup of coffee, leaving home “without a lawful reason” and taking part in vigils and protests.
Many of the 118,000 fines were challenged in court and overturned, and officers were later criticised for “Orwellian” tactics that included the use of drones, roadblocks and helicopters to catch rule-breakers.
The revelations about political pressure on the police come on the third day of The Lockdown Files, in which The Telegraph has revealed details from more than 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages from Mr Hancock during the pandemic.
Separately, The Telegraph can reveal that Mr Johnson took the decision to create a Tier 4 alert level, effectively cancelling Christmas for 16 million people, while a lockdown party was taking place in the same building.
The event saw officials “drink excessively” and spill wine on the walls of the press office while Mr Johnson discussed the spread of the alpha variant of Covid and the need for more lockdown measures in the Cabinet Room.
Sue Gray’s report into partygate said others working “elsewhere” in the building “heard significant levels of noise” and that some officials at the party “left to attend official meetings”.
Ms Gray has now announced that she is joining the Labour Party, which has led to allegations from allies of Mr Johnson that her report was a “plot” and her appointment raised serious concerns.
Her hiring has been compared to Sir Tony Blair’s recruitment of Jonathan Powell, a former diplomat who became the then Labour leader’s chief of staff. But Conservative MPs on an “away day” with Mr Sunak in Windsor said it showed her partygate report was partisan and revealed her political allegiances to the public.
Civil servants working in the Cabinet Office, where Ms Gray served as second permanent secretary, were reminded to maintain their impartiality in the face of “public speculation” about her new role.