• Revealed he had received £350,000 in political donations from wealthy figures in horse racing

By Andrew Atkinson

MATT Hancock has come under further pressure to explain why the 2020 Cheltenham Festival was allowed to go ahead – after it was revealed he had received £350,000 in political donations from wealthy figures in horse racing.

The Mirror revealed the health secretary has ‘serious questions to answer’ about the controversial decision which was made – despite calls for mass gatherings to be cancelled due to the risks of spreading Covid-19.

Allowing 250,000 people attend the Cheltenham Festival four-day meeting, ending on March 13, ten days before lockdown is likely to be scrutinised in the independent inquiry – which Boris Johnson has promised will take place.

Hancock faced criticism after claiming the lockdown started ‘precisely’ on March 16. A week before the full lockdown was announced.

The UK’s official Covid-19 death toll has risen to over 45,000.

The investigation revealed that Hancock has benefitted from more than £350,000 in political donations from donors in horse racing.

It includes £140,000 from racehorse owner Bill Gredley’s Unex property business, and £132,400 from horse auctioneer Tattersalls.

The £1450 monthly rent for his former constituency home, a Grade II-listed property on the Thurlow Estate near Newmarket in his constituency of West Suffolk, was reimbursed by tax¬¬-payers via expenses. His landlords were the Vestey family.

Lord Vestey was chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse for 21 years.

His son William Vestey is on the Jockey Club’s Cheltenham Racecourse Committee, which organises the annual festival.

Figures for the first month of lockdown show that Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS trust, which covers Cheltenham, recorded 125 Covid-19 deaths, more than double that in two nearby trusts at Bristol, which had 58 each.

When Hancock was asked in April if the festival should have taken place, he said he was in ‘no doubt’ a review will take place.

He said: “Well there will be a time for a review of that won’t there? And I’ve absolutely no doubt that the sort of review called for will happen and quite rightly because we need to learn in case there are future pandemics like this.

“We followed the scientific advice, we were guided by that science. I think that broadly we took the right measures at the right time. We were ahead of many countries in Europe in terms of when we took the measures and that’s what you have got to do in these circumstances, acting with imperfect information as we are all the way through it and learning.”

 

 

 

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