Matt Hancock was caught in a clinch with his aide by a CCTV camera installed in his office without his knowledge, it emerged on Friday night, as an urgent investigation was launched into the unprecedented security breach.
The Telegraph understands Mr Hancock had no idea the camera existed when it captured him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo, and government sources said it was "unheard of" for cameras to be installed in ministers’ offices.
It raises the possibility that the camera was deliberately placed by someone with access to his office with the intention of catching the pair cheating on their spouses and breaking Covid rules. It is the first time a Cabinet minister has been filmed in their own office without their knowledge.
In a further twist, the Department of Health and Social Care’s offices use CCTV cameras made by the Chinese company Hikvision, which is banned in the US because of national security concerns.
The DHSC’s security team is conducting an urgent review of security in the building in Victoria Street, central London, where Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo were filmed on May 6, the day of the local elections.
It is also in charge of a leak investigation to discover who gave the footage to The Sun newspaper, described by Whitehall insiders as a "massive breach of security".
One theory being investigated is that the footage was filmed by someone on a mobile phone as it was being played on a CCTV screen, which could make it more difficult to prove who was responsible.
While the revelation could spell the end of Mr Hancock’s Cabinet career, the leak has also triggered a red alert in the Government over who could be spying on the country’s most senior ministers.
Matt Hancock and his aide Gina Coladangelo have been photographed apparently breaking government social distancing rules by embracing
Credit: George Cracknell Wright/LNP
In the footage, Mr Hancock is seen checking the corridor outside his ninth-floor office is clear at just after 3pm on May 6 before closing the door and leaning against it to make sure it cannot be opened.
Ms Coladangelo then walks towards him and they begin kissing. A source told The Sun that the pair had regularly been caught embracing and that their affair was an open secret among staff. The newspaper claimed the footage was released by a whistleblower disgusted that Mr Hancock was breaking Covid rules while telling people to obey them.
At the time, the country was in stage two of the lifting of lockdown, meaning hugging anyone from outside your own household was banned. On Friday, Mr Hancock admitted breaching social distancing guidance and said he was sorry for having "let people down".
On the day he was filmed with Ms Coladangelo, the Health Secretary was working in London and spent some of his time tweeting pictures of himself on the campaign trail from earlier in the local election campaign. He also urged people to get out and vote and tweeted about "fantastic" vaccination numbers.
Day-to-day security at government buildings is typically contracted to private firms, although the DHSC has yet to confirm whether this was the case at its offices or whether staff monitoring CCTV images were vetted or had signed the Official Secrets Act.
The £144 million building is owned by Singapore-based property firm Ho Bee Land, which bought it five years ago and has not so far responded to requests for comment.
Cameras on the outside were made by Hikvision, which is owned by the Chinese state and banned in the US because of national security concerns and alleged human rights violations. The firm is alleged to have provided cameras that monitor Uighur Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang.
A spokesman for the company said it sold cameras to third parties and had no knowledge of where they were installed, but on Friday there were calls for MI5 to become involved in the investigation to rule out any involvement by hostile states.
One covert security expert said: "In all my years of working in this field I have never known a camera to be positioned inside an office like this. An office is a private space and that raises all sorts of issues.
"The camera is facing the door so it will give you a record of who is coming and going. But if you wanted to do that you would place the camera outside of the office in the corridor. Also, the angle of the camera is all wrong because if someone walks into the office with their head down this will not be able to see their features. To me it smacks more of a small covert camera that has been placed in a light fixture."
Senior government sources have told The Telegraph that the Government Security Group, which is in charge of security at 800 buildings across Whitehall, has offered to help the DHSC’s own security team.
One said: "There are an awful lot of questions that need answering. Lots of government buildings have cameras outside offices that film people going in and out, but I have never seen one inside a Secretary of State’s office. It’s unheard of.
"What was that camera doing there, and who put it there? More importantly, who is it that has access to what is going on inside that office? We are talking about people being able to spy on a Secretary of State, so this is a serious breach of security, regardless of what you think of Matt Hancock’s behaviour."
Another government source said: "Nine times out of 10 security is sub-contracted through a facilities management company because the buildings are usually rented from a landlord. That would mean potentially a lot of people would have access to that footage. One of the theories is that someone filmed this on their mobile phone from a CCTV screen, which would make it potentially harder to find the culprit."
The fact that the camera was part of the overall CCTV network ruled out any suggestion that Ms Coladangelo could have been behind the leak, and friends of Dominic Cummings, the former Downing Street special adviser who has waged a campaign against Mr Hancock since leaving his job last year, insisted he had nothing to do with the leak.
One government source suggested it was possible the camera had been placed in the office to increase security as a result of the Covid pandemic, while another person familiar with the layout of the office speculated that extra cameras could have been put there because it has a balcony, making it more vulnerable to break-ins.
However, The Telegraph has established that Mr Hancock had no knowledge that the camera had been installed, giving weight to the theory that it was placed there for nefarious reasons.
Mr Hancock hired married Ms Coladangelo last year, having known her since they were at Oxford University together. The fact that colleagues say their affair had been going on for some time means the camera could have been installed by someone who already knew they were canoodling in his office.
Department of Health officials were on Friday night still trying to establish when the camera was installed, and by whom.
Dr Alan Mendoza, the executive director of national security think tank the Henry Jackson Society, a national security think tank, said: "Top secret information passes through the offices of secretaries of state every day.
"The Government must urgently explain how such a glaring security breach occurred and MI5 must immediately probe the circumstances. Given the seriousness, all other ministerial offices will now need immediately sweeping to see what other listening and recording devices are snooping on ministers.
"Steps should also be taken to determine if this incident was conducted by a disgruntled civil servant or – given its sophistication and seriousness – agents of a hostile state."
The Henry Jackson Society reported the disclosure of the tape to the Metropolitan Police as a breach of the Official Secrets Act, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
A spokesman said: "It is clear that an offence has taken place under the Official Secrets Acts and that warrants investigation. Either a tape has been leaked in breach of obligations under the OSA or illegal access to a protected site has been obtained.
"Clearly, an offence has occurred and it warrants a full MI5 and police investigation."