Truth behind Matt Hancock’s ‘step-grandad’ who died from Covid

Revealed: Matt Hancock’s ‘step-grandfather’ whose Covid death brought Health Secretary close to tears in Parliament

  • On Tuesday Matt Hancock told Parliament his step-grandfather died from Covid
  • He said ‘Derek’ had passed away last month after catching the virus in Liverpool 
  • Health Secretary was close to tears breaking the news to MPs in the Commons
  • He drew on personal experience to highlight the toll Covid had taken on the UK
  • MailOnline can reveal Mr Hancock’s relative is Derek Johnston, who died at 77
  • Mr Johnston was the husband of Hancock’s mother Shirley’s husband’s ex-wife  

By Nick Craven Stewart Whittingham For Mailonline

This is Derek Johnston, the ‘step-grandfather’ whose death brought Health Secretary Matt Hancock close to tears when he paid an emotional tribute to him in Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Hancock, 42, was wrapping up a highly-charged debate on the Covid lockdown tiers when he referred to Mr Johnston as his ‘step-grandfather, Derek’ who died last month of the virus.

In fact, Derek was not Mr Hancock’s step-grandfather and their relationship, MailOnline has discovered, was more complex than that. 

Former construction worker Derek, 77, was the second husband of Mr Hancock’s stepfather, Bob Carter’s ex-wife, Marjorie.

Mr Carter married the Health Secretary’s mother Shirley in 1984 after she split from Mr Hancock’s father Michael when the MP was six years old. 

Mr Carter had been married before to Marjorie Slater, but after their divorce, she married Derek Johnston in 1983. 

The fractured and complex family background of the Cheshire-born MP has been thrust into the spotlight by the surprising intervention of Mr Hancock.

Mr Johnston (left and right), who died in Liverpool on November 18, was married to Marjorie Johnston, who is Mr Hancock’s stepfather Robert Carter’s first wife

The family tree shows how Mr Hancock and Mr Johnston are distantly related. The complex nature of his family background was highlighted by the surprising intervention of Mr Hancock

In his speech on Tuesday, Mr Hancock told the Commons: ‘We talk a lot of the outbreak in Liverpool, and how that great city has had a terrible outbreak and got it under control.

‘This means more to me than I can say, because last month my step-grandfather Derek caught Covid there and on 18 November he died.

‘In my family, as in so many others, we’ve lost a loving husband, a father, a grandfather to this awful disease.

‘So from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to everyone in Liverpool for getting this awful virus under control.

‘It’s down by four-fifths in Liverpool, that’s what we can do if we work together in a spirit of common humanity.

‘We’ve got to beat this, we’ve got to beat it together.’

Mr Johnston married Marjorie (above) in 1983 after she split from Mr Hancock’s step-father 

Mr Hancock’s father Michael, 74, told MailOnline of Derek: ‘He was older me, he was in a home and he had Alzheimers – the usual story. It was just a few weeks ago.’

Asked if the family had managed to see Derek before he died, Michael said: ‘You know that it is like with his dreadful disease, it is very restricting.

‘It is not my side of the family.’ 

When pointed out that his son was upset talking about Derek’s death in the Commons, Michael added: ‘Matt wears his heart on his sleeve. He is affected by these things.’

Speaking from his home in Tarporley, Cheshire, he went on: ‘My son is the health secretary trying to do a job against a constant barrage of criticism and you cannot appreciate the amount of energy he has.

‘The amount of intellect he has, and he is far cleverer than me, that he puts all this into it.

‘And from my perspective all I see is people moaning all the time.’

Referring to Mr Hancock’s public mention of Derek, Michael said: ‘Presumably it is highlighting the fact that this disease is affecting everybody, nobody comes above it.’

Asked about Derek’s death, Mr Hancock’s mother Shirley said: ‘It’s very sad.’ 

When asked if her husband Bob was related to Derek, she added: ‘Yes, we’re all in a big family.’ 

Derek – who worked for construction giant Kier in the north-west for many years – suffered from dementia in later life.

On a tribute page on the ‘much loved’ website, he is fondly remembered by his widow Marjorie and described as ‘a much-loved, devoted husband, dad, brother, uncle, grandad and friend.

‘Derek will always be remembered for his kindness, his loyalty, generosity and his quirky sense of humour.’

In his speech, Mr Hancock told the Commons the outbreak in Liverpool ‘means more to me than I can say because last month my step-grandfather Derek caught Covid there and died’ 

Donations in his name are invited for the Willowbrook Hospice in St Helens, and four days ago, Bob Carter made a donation, with the Health Secretary and his wife Martha also pledging a sum on Tuesday, the day of his speech in the Commons.

Matthew John David Hancock was born on October 2, 1978 in Chester to businessman Michael Hancock and then wife Shirley Hills.

But by 1982, his father had left Shirley, Matthew and his elder sister Emily to marry Vera Atkin in Chester, who already had a daughter, Katherine from a previous relationship.

The following year, Vera gave birth to Matthew’s half-brother Christopher Hancock, now aged 37.

In October 1984, Mr Hancock’s mother married company director Robert Carter, and the pair went on to found Border Business Systems, an early software company in the north-west. 

Later, Mr Hancock, who attended the prestigious £16,500-a-year King’s School, Chester, and won a first in PPE from Exeter Oxford, and a Masters in Economics at Cambridge, would work briefly for the firm.

Border Business Systems is said to have pioneered the ‘address management’ technology which allows people to enter their postcode and choose from a list of addresses.

From 2000 to 2005, father-of-three Mr Hancock worked as an economist for the Bank of England, and soon his meteoric rise through the Conservative Party would begin, becoming a Secretary of State aged just 39. 

A spokesman for Mr Hancock declined to comment.