Hancock's chummy WhatsApps with ex-pub landlord handed Covid contracts

‘Matt Hancock? Never heard of him’: Leaked WhatsApps reveal Health Secretary shared a joke with the former landlord of his local pub when it was revealed he had been handed Covid contracts worth £30m

Matt Hancock was facing fresh questions tonight over his relationship with a publican handed Covid contracts worth £30million after WhatsApp messages between them suggested they were close friends.

The Health Secretary has been facing increasing pressure over the decision to give a vial production deal to Alex Bourne, the former landlord of his local pub.

The Cabinet minister has denied being involved in the decision after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) began a probe into Mr Bourne’s firm Hinpack.

But WhatsApp messages between the two men, seen by the Guardian, show them joking around after the newspaper contacted them last November, about a story on the deal and their association.

Mr Hancock described the Guardian as ‘a rag’ in a message alerting Mr Bourne to the imminent story, to which the ex-landlord replied: ‘Matt Hancock – never heard of him.’

He also assured the politician his lawyers were on at the reporter behind the tale ‘like a tramp on chips’. 

In a WhatsApp message Hancock sent to Bourne about the imminent story, the health secretary called the newspaper ‘a rag’. Bourne wrote back: ‘Matt Hancock – never heard of him’ before assuring the health secretary that his lawyers were ‘all over’ a reporter investigating their connection ‘like a tramp on chips’.

Alex Bourne (pictured together Matt Hancock) supplied tens of millions of Covid tests through his company Hinpack after exchanging a Whatsapp messages with the Health Secretary

Mr Bourne crossed paths with the Health Secretary while running the Cock Inn in Thurlow, West Suffolk, and began producing millions of NHS Covid test vials during the pandemic.  

Cambridgeshire-based Hinpack, which was originally a packaging manufacturer, won around £30million in work to supply a distributor contracted by the NHS with two million test tubes a week, as well as around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples. 

However the MHRA confirmed last month it has launched a probe into Mr Bourne’s company – which had no previous experience of making medical supplies prior to the pandemic.  

Mr Hancock later defended the contracts, saying it would be ‘ridiculous’ to block friends of ministers from public contracts.  

Asked about the deals won by Mr Bourne on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after the probe was revealed, Mr Hancock said he ‘didn’t have anything to do with that contract’, despite claims by the ex-landlord that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary . 

‘This has all been looked into in great detail, it’s only because of the transparency that I support that we can ask questions about these contracts,’ Mr Hancock added.

‘The implication of your question about the specific one that you raised is that people should be barred from taking contracts if they know anybody involved. That would be ridiculous. 

‘What’s more is that it is easy to ask these questions, but what is hard is to deliver PPE in the teeth of a pandemic and that is what my team did.’  

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