Isabel Oakeshott

The Telegraph

Isabel Oakeshott exposed the conversations behind momentous decisions made during the Coronavirus pandemic that affected all our lives.

By releasing more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages between Matt Hancock, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ministers and advisers, Isabel took a personal risk to give the public access to unfiltered conversations at the height of the pandemic, amid concerns over the speed and transparency of the public inquiry. As she said, The Lockdown Files investigation mattered because: "Every single person in this country was affected by the pandemic and many are still suffering as a result. We were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices and generally did so more than willingly, to protect ourselves and each other. Doubtless lives were saved, but at a terrible price. The post-mortem is now urgent." Isabel's work exposed how care home residents were failed during the pandemic. The public now knows that when Prof Sir Chris Whitty said there should be testing for “all going into care homes”, this advice was not immediately implemented, with Mr Hancock later telling advisers that a commitment to community testing “muddies the waters”, amid concerns about capacity. Care homes were the scene of a quarter of Covid deaths. The WhatsApp messages also revealed how Mr Hancock mounted a “rearguard action” to close schools and how the then education secretary was mocked by an adviser for “freaking out”. They exposed how Mr Hancock wrote to an aide that they would “frighten the pants off everyone” with a new strain of Coronavirus, ahead of Christmas being cancelled. The messages also lifted the lid on discussions ahead of lockdowns, including Mr Johnson’s fear that Britain’s second lockdown was based on ‘very wrong’ data, telling advisers as restrictions were about to come into force, “the attack is going to be that we blinked too soon”. The leaked messages offered a unique insight into the Government’s response to a global pandemic. The exchanges are likely to be examined by historians as they provide a second-by-second record of conversations at a time of national crisis. The investigation into the WhatsApp messages exposed occasions where politics seems to have trumped “the science” and “groupthink” appears to have prevailed, sometimes at extraordinary cost to the public. Isabel ensured that the Government has been held to account, in an exemplary example of public interest journalism. Her decision to release The Lockdown Files has helped provide answers to the hundreds of thousands of bereaved families who have questioned whether enough was done to protect their relatives months before the official inquiry even began.