Sir Robert Buckland, the justice secretary for much of the pandemic, has rejected claims made by Matt Hancock that a plan to release “thousands” of prisoners was considered by the Government.
Mr Hancock, the former health secretary and unlikely star of ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, made the claim in his newly published diaries.
The MP, who is set to leave Parliament at the next general election, references a proposed plan he labelled “bonkers” that would have seen thousands of prisoners released amid concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In the entry, he mentions discussing it with Sir Robert: “It’s obvious the public won’t wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.
“After about the third iteration, I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.”
But speaking to Times Radio, the former justice secretary appeared to reject Mr Hancock’s version of events as he warned about the need to show “respect” to the inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
“At no stage was there some secret plan by me or the (Ministry of Justice), to aim to release thousands of prisoners, it was something that we were very resistant to,” he said.
“I have a very clear recollection, that at all times I was aiming to contain the outbreak in prisons without the need to release prisoners.
“I have a contemporaneous note. A note that I wrote more or less at the time. And my recollection is that the emergency legislation that his department brought forward contained within it some potential draft provisions to allow for a scheme to release prisoners, it wasn’t something that I sought or wanted. And indeed, I was very clear that I did not want those provisions.
“And it was only later that a very restricted scheme involving the tagging of a few hundred prisoners was cleared.”
Sir Robert, who left his job as Welsh secretary when Rishi Sunak took office, suggested that the inquiry meant that anyone involved in decision-making during the pandemic should “hang on” before disclosing specific events in Government.
“I think all of us who had responsibility for major parts of public service during Covid should actually hang on and wait for that inquiry to take place.
“I think it’s far better for people like me to respect that process. And let that take its course before publishing or writing or disclosing recollections that we may have had about the events of the time.”