Delingpole: COVID Crony Cash Scandal Reveals Hancock’s Cock-up at the Cock Inn

Matt Hancock
Getty Images / Geograph.org

A government minister redecorating his home study would seem like a non-event in normal times, but the act takes on special importance when you mix in the former landlord of a historic English inn, allegations of dodgy contracts, and a cool £30 million of taxpayer’s money.

Controversial UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock appears to have removed from his study wall a photograph of his favourite local pub – which till recently featured prominently in the background when he gave TV interviews.

A picture of the pub — The Cock Inn — was visible when Hancock gave media interviews on Sunday but had mysteriously vanished by Monday.

Gosh, what possible reason could Hancock have had for this sudden change of heart towards his local and its erstwhile landlord Alex Bourne?

Might it have anything to do with a burgeoning scandal involving a £30 million Covid contract awarded to the Bourne after he had sent a WhatsApp in March last year to Hancock’s mobile saying: ‘Hello, it’s Alex Bourne from Thurlow’?

It was among £18 billion worth of Covid contracts handed out by senior ministers of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, a significant chunk going to friends and acquaintances, in what has become known as the ‘Cash for Cronies’ scandal.

Last week a High Court judge ruled that Health Secretary Hancock had acted ‘unlawfully’ in failing to publish the details of these contracts within the 30-day period required by law.

But up to now, Hancock has faced no consequences for his dubious behaviour, other than public embarrassment.

Interviewed on Sky News on Tuesday, Health Secretary Hancock insisted he had done nothing wrong and that he would do it all over again if he had to.

According to the Mail:

‘We accepted in full that these things were published a fortnight late. That isn’t in dispute,’ [Hancock] said.

‘We argued the public interest defence – it’s in the national interest that we did what we did.’

‘Sure, if we weren’t able to put the paperwork in on time – in normal times of course we’d put the paperwork in on time.

‘But in the middle of a global pandemic you don’t.

‘You can ask me as many questions as you like, you’re not going to change my view.

‘And if I had my time again, absolutely I would do exactly the same thing, exactly the same thing, even if it led to this conversation.

But this doesn’t go very to explaining one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the £30 million contract: what possible reason could Hancock have had for handing such a contract to a publican mate who, however excellent his beer or lavish his hospitality, had no experience of making medical supplies.

According to the Mail:

[Bourne’s] company, 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 Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed at the weekend it has launched a probe into Mr Bourne’s company – which had no previous experience of making medical supplies prior to the pandemic.

One possible explanation for Hancock’s extreme generosity towards the publican is that he has so very few friends he treats those he does have unusually well.

It cannot possibly be a case of corruption or jobs for the boys, though, because Hancock has publicly denied any wrongdoing.

The Mail reports:

Asked about the deals won by Mr Bourne on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning 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.

Ridiculous indeed. So ridiculous that we can all perfectly well appreciate why Hancock would have taken the offending pub photo down and replaced it with something less controversial – possibly, it has been suggested, Hancock’s cycling proficiency certificate.

After all, which of us hasn’t at some time or another found ourselves wondering where to spend £30 million of public money on PPE contracts and then realised in a sudden lightbulb moment: “I know. The bloke who runs the local boozer will be just perfect!”

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