Matt Hancock ‘told to tone down concerns about China Covid lab leak in book’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock gives an interview to Sky outside the BBC before appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on May 16, 2021 in London, England. Tonight's show comes a day before the UK further eases its Covid-19 lockdown measures, allowing more indoor activities and mixing of different households. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly been censored over concerns that Covid may have come from a leak at a Chinese laboratory (Image: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Matt Hancock has been urged by senior Whitehall officials to tone down claims in his memoir that leaked correspondence says Covid-19 may have started with a laboratory leak in China.

The former health minister wrote in the original manuscript of his Pandemic Diaries that it was “just too much of a coincidence” that the pandemic started in a market not far from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

According to the Telegraph, which has received tens of thousands of messages from Mr Hancock, he wanted to say that “given the reticence of the Chinese” their official version of events should be treated with “substantial scepticism”.

However, officials warned that the claims would cause “problems” with Beijing and insisted he must make it clear he did not reflect the government’s view, the newspaper reports.


Officials are said to have warned the claims would “cause problems” with Beijing (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The changes to the book were made after Mr Hancock submitted the manuscript to the Cabinet Office for review last year – a procedure all former ministers must follow.

In response, the department wrote: “This is highly sensitive and would cause problems if made public.

“It needs to be clearer that it is an assumption rather than revealing confidential information that comes from internal authorities. It should also be clear that these are not the views or beliefs of HMG.’

It also expressed concern about the book’s proposed comparisons between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Department of Defense research labs at Porton Down.

The Cabinet Office feared it could be confiscated by the Russians, who had previously claimed the nerve agent Novichok used in the poisoning of Sergei and Julia Skripal in Salisbury came from Porton Down.

“The reference to Porton Down is detrimental to national security – which is put up as a hoax is one of the lines of attack Russia has used against us over the Novichok poisoning as it is only a few miles from Porton Down to Salisbury (which is entirely coincidental – as we believe the Wuhan lab is so close to where the first Covid outbreak was recorded), it said.

The disclosure comes after the head of the FBI said last week the agency had determined that Covid was “most likely” the result of a lab leak.

In response to the Telegraph report, a government spokesman said: “We would not comment on leaks or private discussions.”

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “Matt will categorically not comment on national security matters.

“The release of this material demonstrates once again that this illegitimate leaking of partial information is motivated solely by money and an attempt to spin a biased narrative.

“This is completely contrary to the public interest served by the public inquiry.”

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Justin Scacco

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