Officials will investigate a complaint regarding sponsorship of a pass for Matt Hancock’s aide Gina Coladangelo (Picture: Getty Images)
The Department of Health and Social Care faces a formal probe over the alleged use of personal email accounts for Government business.
Shamed former health secretary Mr Hancock has been accused of routinely using a private Gmail account while discussing issues like multi-million pound Covid contracts.
Downing Street admitted current minister Lord Bethell, who oversaw the award of Covid contracts, had used a private account – but said this was acceptable if emails were copied to an official account.
Allegations made in the Sunday Times have spurred concerns that important decisions have not been properly recorded ahead of a promised inquiry into how the Government has handled the pandemic.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham described the accusations as ‘concerning’ today – warning ministers could face ‘criminal prosecution’ if information is found to have been deliberately altered, destroyed or concealed.
In a blog post, she said: ‘My worry is that information in private email accounts or messaging services is forgotten, overlooked, autodeleted or otherwise not available when a freedom of information request is later made.
‘That is why my office has launched a formal investigation into the use of private correspondence channels at the Department for Health and Social Care, and has served information notices on the department and others to preserve evidence relevant to my inquiry.’
She added: ‘That investigation will establish if private correspondence channels have been used, and if their use led to breaches of freedom of information or data protection law. We will publish the results of that investigation in due course.’
Lord Bethell has said he was ‘absolutely rigorous to ensure that Government business is conducted through the correct formal channels’.
He is also under formal investigation relating to a complaint regarding his sponsorship of a pass for Gina Coladangelo.
Matt Hancock resigned in disgrace after being caught passionately kissing Gina Coladangelo in his office (Picture: Reuters)
Lord Bethell has denied wrongdoing (Picture: BBC NEWS)
Married Mr Hancock resigned in disgrace last month after being caught breaking his own social distancing rules by sharing a steamy clinch with Ms Coladangelo.
She was brought into the DHSC first as an unpaid adviser before being made a non-executive director, receiving £15,000-a-year for three days work.
Members of the House of Lords can sponsor passes for secretaries and research assistants if they ‘genuinely and personally’ fulfil those roles for the sponsoring member.
The sponsor has to sign a declaration to that effect, and it would be against the rules if the individual did not work for the peer.
Ms Coladangelo is no longer listed as a member of staff for Lord Bethell on his parliamentary web page.
But an online archive showed she was listed as a staff member in May last year as ‘Mrs Gina Tress’, a marketing and communications director for Oliver Bonas, the retailer founded by her husband, Oliver Tress.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘DHSC has been engaging with the Information Commissioner’s Office and the department will cooperate with any investigation.
‘All ministers are aware of the guidance around personal email usage and government business is conducted in line with this guidance.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted the DHSC for further comment.
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