Matt Hancock’s I’m a Celeb appearance ‘insulting’, says bereaved daughter

A bereaved daughter who won a high court ruling that Matt Hancock’s policy on care home discharges at the start of the Covid pandemic was unlawful has urged TV viewers to boycott his appearance on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

Dr Cathy Gardner, whose father was among more than 11,000 care home residents in England whose deaths involved Covid in March and April 2020, said “to see him just paraded on television, like he’s some kind of fun figure, so he can make some money and make himself into some kind of fake celebrity” was “insulting” and “completely sick”.

She said the producers’ decision to cast the former secretary of state, and pay him a fee reported to be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, was “two fingers to those of us who are bereaved, because they just don’t seem to care about how significant he was”.

Faye Harris (left) and Cathy Gardner in April this year after judges ruled that government policies on discharging patients from hospital to care homes were ‘unlawful’. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Almost 40,000 people have signed a petition organised by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group demanding that ITV bosses reverse their decision, with just hours to go before the show starts on Sunday evening.

“Families were ripped apart by Matt Hancock’s actions, and turning on the TV to see him being paraded around as a joke is sickening,” said the campaign group, which represents more than 6,500 bereaved families. In earlier seasons, the show has attracted 12 million viewers, but 2021 saw an audience slump.

Alongside another bereaved daughter, Faye Harris, Gardner argued in a high court case that government policy around sending hospital patients into care homes to free up beds at the start of the pandemic did the “very opposite” of Hancock’s claim to have thrown a “protective ring” around all care homes.

In April 2022, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham ruled it was “irrational” for Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care not to have isolated hospital patients discharged into care homes. They said Hancock’s decision to maintain discharge policies that failed to account for the known risk of asymptomatic transmission into April 2020 was “unlawful”. The judges pointed out that the government’s own chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, had highlighted the risk on national radio as early as 13 March 2020.

Gardner said Hancock’s appearance alongside radio DJ Chris Moyles, footballer Jill Scott, and musician Boy George suggested the high court ruling was “a complete waste of time, because even though he was responsible … now they’re saying, ‘Oh, great, here’s a whole load of money, come and entertain people on television.’”

Addressing the possibility that Hancock will in some way be punished by viewers voting for him to endure trials involving live creatures and eating “bush tucker”, she said: “If people think that making him do stupid things on television is some kind of penance, well, I don’t think so. He should have just disappeared. I don’t want to see his face on TV.”

Hancock is also releasing a £25 pandemic memoir next month, and has said of his I’m a Celebrity appearance: “I haven’t lost my marbles or had one too many piña coladas … It’s important to engage with voters, especially younger voters, no matter where they are, and show the human side of politicians.”

Hancock is highly likely to be a central witness in the Covid-19 public inquiry, which over eight weeks next summer will cross-examine politicians and officials on “how central government responded to the pandemic and made the key decisions that it did”.

In a preliminary hearing last week, the lead counsel to the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC, said “it will identify plainly wrongful decision-making, and significant errors of judgment”.

ITV has been approached for comment.

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