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Former health secretary Matt Hancock played a key role in the UK’s response to the COVID pandemic – and his decisions will today be scrutinised by the official inquiry.

Mr Hancock was a familiar face at the regular press conferences that took place during that period, giving updates to the public about social distancing measures, the state of the NHS and the vaccine programme.

In 2021, he was forced to resign after he admitted he broke the government’s own coronavirus guidance to pursue an affair with an aide.

Today it is his turn to give evidence to the COVID inquiry.

He will follow a string of high-profile witnesses who have already shared their experience of the pandemic with inquiry chair Baroness Hallett, including Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Lord Simon Stevens, who was the chief executive of the NHS at the time, and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Mr Hancock has already featured heavily in the testimonies of the witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry so far.

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A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said he has “supported the inquiry throughout and will respond to all questions when he gives his evidence”.

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Former NHS CEO Lord Stevens made this assessment of Mr Hancock when he appeared before the COVID inquiry at the beginning of November.

“The secretary of state for health and social care took the position that in this situation he – rather than, say, the medical profession or the public – should ultimately decide who should live and who should die,” he said in a written statement to the inquiry.

“Fortunately, this horrible dilemma never crystallised.”

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Hancock ‘wanted to decide who should live’

However, although Lord Stevens suggested that Mr Hancock wanted too many powers in his capacity as health secretary, he did add that “for the most part” the former cabinet minister could be trusted.

“There were occasional moments of tension and flashpoints, which are probably inevitable during the course of a 15-month pandemic but I was brought up always to look to the best in people,” he said.

‘Nuclear levels of over-confidence’

The day before Lord Stevens gave evidence, the COVID inquiry heard from Helen MacNamara, who was deputy cabinet secretary during the pandemic.

She told the inquiry Mr Hancock showed “nuclear levels” of confidence at the start of the COVID pandemic and “regularly” told colleagues in Downing Street things “they later discovered weren’t true”.

For example, Ms MacNamara said the former health secretary would say things were under control or being sorted in meetings, only for it to emerge in days or weeks that “was not in fact the case”.

She also recalled a “jarring” incident where she told Mr Hancock that it must have been difficult to be health secretary during a pandemic, to which he responded by miming playing cricket, saying: “They bowl them at me, I knock them away” during the first lockdown.

‘Lied his way through this and killed people’

There is clearly no love lost between Mr Hancock and Mr Cummings, who told the inquiry that he repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to sack him.

Mr Cummings alleged that the ex-health secretary “lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it”.

In a message sent to Mr Johnson in May 2020, Mr Cummings said: “You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There’s no way the guy can stay. He’s lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it.”

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COVID: No 10 in ‘complete chaos’

In August 2020, he wrote again: “I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or [should] believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the c**t in charge of NHS still.”

Mr Cummings also echoed Ms MacNamara’s accusation that the former health secretary told colleagues things that later were discovered not to be true, saying he “sowed chaos” by continuing to insist in March 2020 that people without symptoms of a dry cough and a temperature were unlikely to be suffering from coronavirus.

He also revealed that he purposefully excluded Mr Hancock from meetings because he could not be trusted.

Mark Sedwill wanted Hancock removed to ‘save lives and protect the NHS’

Messages exchanged by Lord Mark Sedwill, the former head of the Civil Service and Simon Case, the current cabinet secretary, revealed that Lord Sedwill wanted Mr Hancock removed as health secretary to “save lives and protect the NHS” – a play on the pandemic-era slogan at the time.

Lord Sedwill said this was “gallows humour” and that he did not use the work “sack” when speaking to Mr Johnson about his health secretary.

However, he did admit that Mr Johnson would nevertheless have been “under no illusions” about his feelings towards Mr Hancock.

‘He had a habit of saying things he didn’t have a basis for’

Sir Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser from 2018 to 2023, was another figure who claimed Mr Hancock would say things “he didn’t have a basis for”, which he attributed to “over-enthusiasm”.

He told the COVID inquiry: “I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later.

“I don’t know to what extent that was sort of over-enthusiasm versus deliberate – I think a lot of it was over-enthusiasm.”

Asked if this meant he “said things that weren’t true”, Sir Patrick replied: “Yes”.

‘I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister’

One COVID witness who did defend Mr Hancock was Michael Gove, who was minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the pandemic.

He told the inquiry that “too much was asked” of Mr Hancock’s department at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We should collectively have recognised that this was a health system crisis at an earlier point and taken on to other parts of government the responsibility for delivery that was being asked of DHSC [department for health and social care] at the time,” he said.

He added: “I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister.”

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Lee Anderson suspended from Conservative Party after ‘Islamophobic’ comments

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Lee Anderson has been suspended from the Conservative party after ‘Islamophobic’ comments.

A spokesperson for Chief Whip Simon Hart said: “Following his refusal to apologise for comments made yesterday, the Chief Whip has suspended the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson MP.”

Speaking on GB News this week, Mr Anderson, MP for Ashfield, said: “I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London… He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Earlier today Sadiq Khan accused the prime minister of being “complicit” in racism for failing to condemn Mr Anderson‘s comments that “pour fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Mr Khan said the claim by the former deputy chairman of Tory party were Islamophobic and sent the message that Muslims were “fair game” when it came to racism.

The remarks prompted criticism from Labour and some Tories, including former cabinet minister Sajid Javid who branded them “ridiculous”.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly.

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King Charles shown chuckling at get well card featuring dog in a head cone

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King Charles shown chuckling at get well card featuring dog in a head cone

The King has been shown having a chuckle at cards sent by well-wishers, including one of a dog with the caption “at least you don’t have to wear a cone!”.

The 75-year-old monarch has been sent around 7,000 messages of support from around the world since his cancer diagnosis.

Newly released images and footage show King Charles looking through some of them at his desk in Buckingham Palace’s Belgian Suite.

King Charles III reads cards and messages, sent by wellwishers following his cancer diagnosis.
Pic:PA
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The photos show the King in Buckingham Palace’s Belgian Suite. Pic: PA

He seemed particularly tickled by a card featuring an illustration of a terrier-like dog in a head cone, recovering from medical treatment.

Pets often wear plastic collars after an operation, to stop them aggravating a wound or stitches.

Other cards spread out in front of the King include one that reads “Your Majesty Get Well Soon”, while a number appear to be hand-drawn by children.

Many have related their own experience of cancer, with messages such as: “Chin up, chest out, remain positive and don’t let it get you down.”

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“Never give up. Be brave. Don’t push your limits. Get Well Soon,” says one note from a child.

Those who’ve included their address will be sent a message of thanks.

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Messages ‘reduced me to tears’

The King was pictured reading the cards on Wednesday – the same day he met the prime minister for their weekly audience.

He told Rishi Sunak that he’d been “reduced to tears” by the public’s support.

The monarch was speaking to Mr Sunak in their first face-to-face meeting since it was announced he had a “form of cancer”.

“I’ve had so many wonderful messages and cards, it has reduced me to tears most of the time,” King Charles told the prime minister.

He added: “I hear there has been a lot more potential attention on those main, wonderful cancer charities, many of which I have been a patron of for years.”

The King had been mostly staying at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk following his first round of treatment in London.

Buckingham Palace announced on 5 February that cancer had been discovered while undergoing a procedure for an enlarged prostate.

The Palace has not released details about the type of cancer or the treatment.

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Professional golfer Georgia Ball can ‘see the funny side’ after ‘mansplaining’ TikTok video goes viral

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Professional golfer Georgia Ball can 'see the funny side' after 'mansplaining' TikTok video goes viral

Professional female golfer Georgia Ball has said she can “see the funny side” after a video of an amateur player “mansplaining” to her about her swing went viral.

Ball, a certified PGA pro and instructor, also told Sky Sports she did not put the man in his place during the “awkward” conversation because she is a “humble person”.

The TikTok video of the incident she shared earlier this week has had more than 10 million views and over 26,000 comments, with many social media users mocking the man for “mansplaining”.

In the clip, Ball, who regularly shares instructional videos on her account, is seen practising her swing at a driving range near Liverpool.

A man off camera then says: “Excuse me, what you’re doing there, you shouldn’t be doing that… swing and follow through.”

He goes on to tell her that she is “too slow on the way up”.

Ball explains she is going through a “swing change” – something golfers regularly do to improve their technique.

However, the man continues: “I know, but what you’re doing there is you’re coming back too slow.

“I’ve been playing golf for 20 years, what you need to do is follow through a lot quicker than what you’re doing there right now.”

She explains again that she is going through a swing change, but the man continues to advise that she needs to move her club quicker.

Ball then cleanly strikes the ball into the distance before the man says: “See how much better that was?”

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The professional golfer explains once again that she is practising a swing change, before the man repeats that he “has been playing for 20 years” and that she should carry on playing the way he has advised her to.

Ball then laughs, before sarcastically adding: “Thanks for your advice.”

Asked by Sky Sports how she felt during the interaction, Ball said: “It was an awkward conversation at the time but I was just concentrating on what I was doing… I am glad I can look back on it now and see the funny side to it.”

When asked if she was ever tempted to put the man in his place, she said: “To be honest, I am a humble person, it is not in me to call him out or say I am a PGA pro, it is just not in me to do that.”

Ball added that she never got the chance to see the man hit a ball, so was unable to pass comment on his swing.

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