Ministers demand 'urgent sweep' of offices after Hancock CCTV leak

Ministers demand an ‘urgent sweep of all high-level government offices’ to see if they’re being filmed as MI5 ‘will discuss the leak of Matt Hancock CCTV footage with the Cabinet Office’

  • Cabinet ministers have demanded an urgent sweep of their offices for cameras
  • Robert Buckland said ministers must have ‘safe space’ to read sensitive material 
  • The Justice Secretary said sweeps for cameras should be conducted regularly 

Cabinet ministers are demanding their offices be urgently swept for secret cameras in the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said this morning that departmental offices must be a ‘safe space’ where ministers and officials can discuss sensitive material away from prying eyes.  

He warned that such footage could be used to damage national security should it fall into the hands of ‘unfriendly governments’.   

Mr Buckland said he and his Cabinet colleagues have called for checks for cameras and bugs to now be ‘conducted regularly’ in the future.

Meanwhile, MI5 is due to speak to the Cabinet Office this week to determine if it should probe the leaked video footage of Mr Hancock which showed him breaking social distancing rules by kissing an aide in his ministerial office. 

MI5 is due to speak to the Cabinet Office this week to determine if it should probe the leaked video footage of Matt Hancock

The Department of Health and Social Care has now disabled the camera in the secretary of state’s office. 

Officials are also said to have covered the lens with masking tape as a precaution as Mr Hancock’s replacement, Sajid Javid, takes up his new role.  

Mr Hancock was apparently unaware of the camera in his office and ministers are now calling for all ministerial offices to be swept amid mounting national security concerns.

Mr Buckland told Sky News: ‘I think that there is an important principle here about the need for ministers and civil servants who often are handling very sensitive material and information to have a safe space within which to work.

‘Now, I accept that CCTV is a factor of all our daily lives, we are probably being filmed in all sorts of places as we go about our lawful business.

‘But I do think that there is a wider issue here of concern that we should all satisfy ourselves about that there isn’t inappropriate coverage being taken of sensitive matters which could be used in a way by those who wish us ill, other unfriendly governments or other people who do not have the interests of our country at heart.’

Asked if there is CCTV in his office, Mr Buckland said: ‘I have asked that question. I don’t think so. I have never seen any camera facilities.

‘I know there is CCTV in the building for obvious security reasons but I am sure that many of my colleagues will be asking the same question and making sure that the offices are swept just in case there are unauthorised devices in there that could be a national security breach. I think that is the sensible thing to do.’

Told that it seems unbelievable that the offices of ministers are not already regularly swept for cameras and bugs, Mr Buckland replied: ‘You raise a really legitimate question and I think frankly sweeps should be conducted regularly, particularly where sensitive material is being handled.’

One minister told The Times: ‘All of us are now wondering whether much more damaging material to Britain’s national security could have been breached from another camera. We need an urgent sweep of all high-level government offices.’

The Department of Health has launched an internal probe into the leaking of the footage. 

That investigation will look at how the images were made public and when the camera was first installed, with reports suggesting it may have been there since 2017. 

Meanwhile, The Time said MI5 chiefs will speak to Cabinet Office officials this week to determine whether there has been a national security breach and whether the threshold has been reached for them to get involved. 

However, the bar for MI5 to launch a probe is high, with a security source telling the newspaper: ‘The major issue is for the people that own the cameras inside the office, and that’s the government itself.’ 

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