Sir Patrick Vallance’s full pandemic diary to be kept secret

Sir Patrick Vallance’s legal team argued that publishing his diary in full would be in breach of his human rights
Sir Patrick Vallance’s legal team argued that publishing his diary in full would be in breach of his human rights
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Sir Patrick Vallance’s full pandemic diary is to be kept secret, the chairman of the Covid Inquiry has indicated.

Lawyers for the former chief scientific adviser have argued it would be a breach of his human rights for his nightly notes, which he wrote while advising the Government during the pandemic, to be published in full.

A copy of Sir Patrick’s diary was made available to the inquiry as part of its evidence. Extracts, frequently shown in hearings since the inquiry began, have provided a unique insight into the competing views between scientists and ministers at the height of the crisis, as well as giving a sense of what some witnesses have described as a “chaotic” atmosphere in Number 10.

Sir Patrick often voiced his views on the behaviour of Boris Johnson, the then prime minister, in the handwritten notes, describing him as “all over the place and completely inconsistent” in one entry.

He also criticised Mr Johnson’s “impossible flip-flopping” and “bipolar decision-making”, and in another entry referred to “chaos as usual” in Downing Street after a meeting on social distancing.

These personal notes have been used by Hugo Keith KC, and other inquiry counsel, to question ministers and other officials over Downing Street’s response to the pandemic and the culture at the time in Number 10.

Ahead of Wednesday’s closing submissions for the second module, which examined government decision-making during the pandemic, Mr Keith asked the inquiry’s chairman to finalise her finding that only excerpts of the diary should be made public.

Speaking of Sir Patrick’s diary entries, Mr Keith said: “You will recall that during Module Two, during the oral hearing, you ruled on an interim basis that only individual extracts from the transcribed notes would be put up on the screen and thereby published.

“On December 7, you provisionally indicated to the core participants through an email … that you were minded to adhere to the approach which you had adopted earlier in the hearing, which was that only the individual excerpts to which reference had been made would be published.

“That email was sent to the core participants and they were given the chance to make submissions in response to your provisional minded decision, but no submissions have been received in response.

“May I ask you to make that provisional finding final and published?”

Suggesting it would be her final finding that only extracts of the notes, and not the diary in full, would be published, Baroness Hallett replied: “I do.”

Eight media organisations, including The Telegraph, made a joint submission to the inquiry in October requesting the diary entries be made available in full.

Sir Patrick’s legal team argued that this would be in breach of his human rights, and that only the words directly relevant to questioning should be displayed in public.

Matthew Hill, representing the Government Office for Science along with current and former chief scientific advisers, said Sir Patrick’s notes were “never intended for publication”, and they would have remained unseen had it not been for a request by the inquiry.

He argued that publishing the diary in full would amount to an interference in Sir Patrick’s right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the common law.

“He [Sir Patrick] describes them as a form of release which helped him focus on the challenges of the next day rather than dwelling on the events of the past,” the barrister said in submissions to the inquiry.

“It was a way of creating space... in what could have been an overwhelming situation,” Mr Hill added.

Prof Karol Sikora, a leading oncologist who has voiced his concerns over lockdowns, criticised the inquiry’s decision to withhold Sir Patrick’s nightly notes.

He said: “National security should be the only reason to withhold pandemic correspondence, reputation management should not.

“Victims and their families, from both the virus and our response to it, have the right to fully understand the reasons behind every decision taken.

“Even if that embarrasses or undermines those who see themselves above it all.”

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