Matt Hancock has said he is "very sorry" for breaching social distancing rules after pictures were published of him appearing to kiss a close friend who is also a taxpayer-funded adviser to his department.
The health secretary was caught on camera kissing Gina Coladangelo, in pictures obtained by The Sun newspaper, which published photographs appearing to have been taken from security cameras inside Whitehall on 6 May.
Hancock, 42, has been married for 15 years to wife Martha and the pair have three children. Coladangelo, 43, is also married with three children.
Hancock said: “I accept that I breached the social distancing guidance in these circumstances.
“I have let people down and am very sorry.
“I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter.”
Who is Gina Coladangelo and what is her job?
Coladangelo was given her role as non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHCS) last September, with a salary believed to be of at least £15,000 a year and having scrutiny over its running.
She is also communications director at fashion and homeware shop Oliver Bonas, which was founded by her husband Oliver Tress.
Coladangelo worked at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon until 2014 and was a director at the company until 2017.
Watch: Matt Hancock accused of 'having affair with close aide' Gina Coladangelo
How did Gina Coladangelo meet Matt Hancock meet?
The pair met while studying at Oxford University and have remained "close friends" ever since. Two unnamed sources told The Sunday Times in November said that Hancock turned to his PR expert friend regularly for advice.
One source said: “Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina. She knows everything.” Another added: “She has access to lots of confidential information.”
How close are the pair?
The Sunday Times claims they spend Christmas, birthdays and other celebrations with each other when their families meet.
The pair appear to have been close since their university days.
During his time as a student journalist at Oxford, Hancock overslept on the day he was supposed to cover a rugby match at Twickenham. Instead of making it to the stadium, he got off the train early, found a nearby pub and watched the match on television, before writing the match report as planned.
In an interview on the BBC last April, in which she did not disclose her role, Coladangelo, a colleague of his at Oxygen FM, recalled: “He told a white lie, pretended he was at Twickenham watching the rugby, when in fact he was in a pub in Reading.” She added: “Successfully. Nobody ever found out.”
What has been said about her role?
In spring 2020, just as the country went into lockdown, Coladangelo was appointed as an unpaid adviser on a six-month contract at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Then last September Hancock gave her a job as a non-executive director at DHSC, making her a member of the department’s oversight board.
The move hit the headlines as there was no public record of the appointment, which was set to see Coladangelo earn at least £15,000 of taxpayers’ money, potentially rising by a further £5,000.
The role makes her responsible for “overseeing and monitoring performance” scrutinising matters of concern to Hancock.
A DHSC spokesman said the appointment was “made in the usual way and followed correct procedure”.
Since April, Coladangelo has had a parliamentary pass – which was sponsored by a junior health minister Lord Bethell – giving her unregulated access to the Palace of Westminster.
What has been the reaction to the allegations?
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday morning that he would not be commenting on the “entirely personal” matter following the reports about his cabinet colleague.
Asked about the rules around appointing friends to government positions, Shapps told Sky News: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.
“In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government, so whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.
“There are no shortcuts to that, as anyone who has had anything to do with the appointments system in the civil service knows.
“There are very strict rules in place.”
Hancock was not at his north London home on Friday morning.
Yahoo News UK has contacted the DHSC for comment but had received no response at the time of publishing.
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