Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

Fury as homes raided in hunt for Matt Hancock affair whistle-blowers despite YOUR right to know about his rule-breaking

BRITAIN’S data watchdog was hit by a furious backlash last night after they raided homes in their hunt for the Matt Hancock scandal whistle-blowers.

The former Health Secretary quit after The Sun last month revealed CCTV of his office clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo, which broke lockdown rules.


Yesterday the Information Commissioner’s Office seized computers and other devices after searching two properties in the south of England.

But their “overkill” probe was branded a menace to the free Press by MPs, campaigners and the public — who said the tipsters should be “given a medal”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office was accused of behaving like the East German Stasi after they set upon two properties in the south of England and seized computers and other devices.

Their “overkill” probe was branded a menace to the Free Press last night.

And voters in Mr Hancock’s constituency said it was right that he was shamed.

Plasterer Craig Wells said: “The whistleblowers should be getting medals for this.”

In a bombshell front-page last month The Sun revealed CCTV of married Mr Hancock’s steamy office clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo that broke lockdown rules — which triggered his resignation.

The Sun revealed Matt Hancock’s steamy office clinch with a glamorous aide Gina Coladangelo that broke lockdown rules – triggering his resignation as Health Secretary.

STEAMY OFFICE CLINCH

Footage was passed to us – with the UK’s most senior lawyer declaring our revelation was squarely in the public interest.

While fighting to survive, Mr Hancock’s allies tried to claim the cheating Tory had been targeted by Russian or Chinese spies, or a bug planted in his office.

Now the leak is subject to an ICO investigation under the Data Protection Act – with the quango relying on little-used powers to conduct their raids on Thursday.

The ICO was hit by a massive backlash last night, with politicians, campaigners and voters in Mr Hancock’s constituency accusing it of a massive overreaction.

Labour’s Shadow Security Minister Conor McGinn hit out: “This story was clearly in the public interest. Any illegality must be investigated by we need to ensure that whistleblowers can continue to play their vital part in the keeping organisations accountable.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Sun were right to publish these photos, they were clearly in the public interest. The Sun is also absolutely right to protect its sources.”

Tory Julian Knight, boss of the powerful Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee said: “I can’t comment on an investigation in progress but freedom of the press and their ability where necessary to act in the public interest is a cornerstone of our democracy and we endanger it at our peril.”

Sam Armstrong, of think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: “If a national security leak has indeed been ruled out by police as it looks like, this is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by a bureaucratic agency to intimidate the source of a story in the public interest.”

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group who campaign to protect our rights to privacy and free speech said: “This is a drastic step by the ICO to intervene in this case which has such obvious public interest.”

'DRASTIC STEP'

Mick Hume, a free speech campaigner, added: “The UK’s ‘data watchdog’ is acting more like a Stasi police dog, launching morning raids on people’s homes and impounding personal computers in its desperation to hunt down the whistle-blower.”

“The Sun’s exposure of the arrogant double standards of a top government minister, who thought the strict rules he imposed on others did not apply to him, is in the best tradition of public interest journalism.”

Voters in the former Health Secretary’s constituency said it was right that he was shamed.

Plasterer Craig Wells said: “The whistleblowers should be getting medals for this — not feel like they could end up in trouble for their actions. We are meant to live in a free society, this is the kind of move you’d expect from a government in China or North Korea.

“Hancock is not popular round here and this latest move won’t do him any favours if he’s trying to get people back on side.”

Last month The Sun revealed CCTV of married dad-of-three Mr Hancock’s steamy office clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo that broke lockdown rules — triggering his resignation.

Another of his Suffolk constituents Nigel Underwood, 60, added: “When I read that story I was really pleased he’d been caught out as the hypocrisy was shocking.

“But straight away I also thought ‘I bet that they’ll go after the whistleblowers. It’s typical of a Government under fire — it’s a classic deflection tactic, they should be ashamed.. “The whistleblowers should be given a medal, not persecuted.”

West Suffolk Tory councillor Ian Houlder said: “Why don’t they put so much effort into questioning Matt Hancock on the other breaches he’s probably made over the past few months?

“Hancock let the people of his constituency down badly — but now they seem to be more interested in a witch-hunt to find whoever leaked the evidence.”

“I think there’s a lot of embarrassment behind it — I think chasing a perpetrator down because he’s embarrassed a minister of the Crown — I don’t think many members of the public will go along with that.

“People will have it at the back of their minds now and will worry about speaking out. This search for a whistle-blower is total overkill —- that isn’t what is important.

'EMBARRASSMENT'

Constituent Simon Ratcliff from Haverhill said: “Finding out how the footage got out doesn’t matter – what is more important is that he was a silly bugger and he got caught and it serves him right.”

Anger mounted after two homes in the south of England were raided as Britain’s data watchdog hunted for the whistleblowers.

The Information Commissioner’s Office was accused of behaving like the East German Stasi as it carried out its probe.

Computers and other devices were taken away. The bombshell footage of dad-of three Hancock’s affair was passed to The Sun — with the UK’s most senior lawyer declaring our revelation was squarely in the public interest.

While fighting to survive, Mr Hancock’s allies tried to claim the cheating Tory had been targeted by Russian or Chinese spies, or a bug planted in his office.

Now the leak is subject to an ICO investigation under the Data Protection Act — with the quango relying on little-used powers to conduct their raids on Thursday.

The ICO was hit by a massive backlash last night as it was accused of a massive overreaction.

Mick Hume, a free speech campaigner, added: “The UK’s ‘data watchdog’ is acting more like a Stasi police dog, launching morning raids on people’s homes and impounding personal computers in its desperation to hunt down the whistle-blower.”

“The Sun’s exposure of the arrogant double standards of a top government minister, who thought the strict rules he imposed on others did not apply to him, is in the best tradition of public interest journalism.”

Labour’s Shadow Security minister Conor McGinn hit out: “This story was clearly in the public interest. Any illegality must be investigated by we need to ensure that whistleblowers can continue to play their vital part in the keeping organisations accountable.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Sun were right to publish these photos, they were clearly in the public interest.

“The Sun is also absolutely right to protect its sources.” Tory Julian Knight, boss of the powerful Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee said: “I can’t comment on an investigation in progress but freedom of the press and their ability where necessary to act in the public interest is a cornerstone of our democracy and we endanger it at our peril.”

Sam Armstrong, of security think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: “If a national security leak has indeed been ruled out by police as it looks like, this is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by a bureaucratic agency to intimidate the source of a story in the public interest.”

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group who campaign to protect our rights to privacy and free speech said: “This is a drastic step by the ICO to intervene in this case which has such obvious public interest.”

Last night there was also growing disquiet within the Government over the ICO’s heavy handed tactics.

Government sources hit out at the probe, saying “this SWAT team style approach just seems totally disproportionate.”

One Whitehall figure added: “You really have to question whether a quango which spends most of its time fielding complaints about nuisance marketing calls should have the power to kick down doors as if they’re breaking up a major drug smuggling ring”

Another said: “they think they’re the FBI when they’re more like the IT Crowd”

'THINK THEY'RE THE FBI'

The ICO said the Emcor Group, which provides CCTV services at the Department of Health and Social Care, submitted a breach report alleging images were taken from the system without consent.

Director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: “the ICO aims to react swiftly and effectively to investigate where there is a risk that other people may have unlawfully obtained personal data.

“We have an ongoing investigation into criminal matters and will not be commenting further until it is concluded.”

Last night leading human rights barrister Adam Wagner told The Sun: “There is obviously a public interest in this story. Journalistic sources are specifically protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, and particularly the right to free speech.

“The public authorities have to be very careful not to intimidate potential whistleblowers or journalists who reported the story.

“Being a whistleblower is not generally a defence to a criminal offence, but it can be in relation to certain data protection offences which may apply here. It would also be relevant in any decision whether to prosecute.”


Data guards

THE Information Commissioner’s Office acts as Britain’s data watchdog.

It was set up to ensure that the personal details we all hand over to the Government and businesses are kept responsibly.

The ICO polices the Data Protection Act and is also the gatekeepers to information accessed via the Freedom of Information Act.

Earlier this year it was handed new enforcement powers — along with the ability to conduct raids, carry out financial investigations and probe online security.

Its boss, civil servant and Canadian citizen Elizabeth Denham, came under fire during the pandemic for working from home — in British Columbia, Canada.

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