'Don't pick an ugly fight with me': Oakeshott warns Hancock over 'menacing message'

Matt Hancock has accused Isabel Oakeshott of 'betrayal' after she released a cache of over 100,000 of his Whatsapp messages to the Telegraph

By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

Matt Hancock has been warned to not "enter into an ugly fight" with Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who leaked his WhatsApp conversations after the former health secretary reportedly text her a "menacing message" at 1.20am.

A public feud has erupted between the pair after she leaked messages which shed light on how he led public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Oakeshott, who passed the cache of over 100,000 messages to the Telegraph, claims Mr Hancock threatened her in the early hours after seeing the newspaper's front page - which he has denied.

But she is now warning him, with a thinly veiled threat of her own, saying she "wouldn't advise" him to pick a fight with her. 

"I don't feel frightened by Matt Hancock," she told Times Radio. "I feel on very solid ground. I think he knows I'm on very solid ground. And I'm really reluctant to get into any kind of slanging match, it isn't about him.

"I could say plenty of things. And perhaps I will be pushed so far that I have to, I'm really trying not to."

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She added: "I would prefer to maintain the moral high ground. If Matt Hancock wants to enter into an ugly fight with me, then that would be an interesting judgement on his part, I wouldn't advise it."

Mr Hancock said her claim he threatened her was "not true" and explained that the message was sent in the early hours because that's when he became aware of the story after not being warned of publication.

The pair were previously on good terms, with Ms Oakeshott being the ghost writer of his 'Pandemic Diaries' - which is how she obtained his WhatsApp messages.

The MP provided her with the huge cache of communications to assist with writing - and she signed a non-disclosure agreement promising not to leak them - but the journalist said the public interest was too significant to sit on them.

Mr Hancock, the MP for West Suffolk, said he was "hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust" in his latest statement.

Revelations from Matt Hancock's WhatsApp messages

“There is absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach," he said, claiming the only place his communications should be scrutinised is the Covid inquiry, which is its very early stages.

But Oakeshott has since hit back, saying she makes "no apology whatsoever for acting in the national interest" over her disclosure of the WhatsApp messages, adding: "The greatest betrayal is of the entire country."

Explaining his early morning message, Hancock said: "When I heard confused rumours of a publication late on Tuesday night, I called and messaged Isabel to ask her if she had ‘any clues’ about it, and got no response. When I then saw what she’d done, I messaged to say it was ‘a big mistake’. Nothing more."

He said he will not be commenting further on stories currently published by the Telegraph relating to the leak, or any subsequent revelations.

Ms Oakeshott, who is international editor for Talk TV, said it was "patently absurd" for Mr Hancock to claim there was no public interest in his messages and "simply absurd" to wait for the Covid inquiry to provide answers about the pandemic response.

"He knows it's of overwhelming public interest," she said, adding: "He's making a fool of himself to suggest there's no public interest in this."

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