Two residential properties in the south of England have been raided by data protection officers, as part of their investigation into who leaked CCTV footage of Matt Hancock kissing an aide in his office.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said they had seized computer equipment and electronic devices as part of the operation on Thursday morning, amid an ongoing investigation into alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.
Footage of Hancock kissing Gina Coladangelo inside the Department of Health’s building was published by the Sun last month, prompting the former health secretary to step down from the cabinet and leave his family to set up home with his aide. Hancock was said to be unaware that there was a camera inside his office.
Security company EMCOR, which provides CCTV services to the department, reported itself to data protection investigators and said the footage was taken from the government CCTV system without consent.
Exactly how the footage, which was recorded on 6 May, ended up travelling from the health department’s internal CCTV system to the media is unclear.
The Sun’s editor, Victoria Newton, has said the newspaper acted quickly after being “contacted by an angry whistle-blower” on 23 June who “claimed to have irrefutable evidence that the married secretary of state for health was breaching his own lockdown rules by having an office affair with an aide”.
She says a reporter was then “dispatched” to view the footage and the outlet decided to publish the story on its front page within 24 hours.
However, other journalists on rival outlets claim had been offered the footage before the individual contacted the Sun.
The Mail on Sunday has claimed that six weeks after the images were captured – and a fortnight after they had been wiped from the department’s CCTV system – an individual who had secured the footage contacted an anti-lockdown campaigner over Instagram to try to get it placed in the media.
The newspaper claimed to have seen a message in which the individual said they need “to be very careful with the information I am about to share” but they had “some very damning CCTV footage of someone that has been recently classed as completely fucking hopeless”.
The ICO has said it is investigating a breach of section 170 of the Data Protection Act, which covers the disclosure of personal data without consent. This section does contain a protection for otherwise unlawful disclosure of data in some circumstances if it “was justified as being in the public interest”.
The Guardian has previously reported that there are concerns within government that the individual who leaked the footage could claim whistleblower protections, because they exposed Hancock breaching his own social -distancing guidelines. Sacking the individual responsible for the leak could be difficult, because they may be able to argue at an employment tribunal that they were acting in the public interest.
Steve Eckersley, director of investigations at the ICO said: “It’s vital that all people, which includes the employees of government departments and members of the public who interact with them, have trust and confidence in the protection of their personal data.
“In these circumstances, the ICO aims to react swiftly and effectively to investigate where there is a risk that other people may have unlawfully obtained personal data. We have an ongoing investigation and will not be commenting further until it is concluded.”