The Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, have denied the Guardian reports exposing their links to PPE Medpro. Over two years, the couple repeatedly distanced themselves from the company, which secured more than £200m in government contracts.
Dismissing mounting evidence pointing to their secret involvement in the PPE business, they insisted they had little or nothing to do with the company. Lawyers for the couple have variously accused reporters of “clutching at straws”, and making allegations that were “largely incorrect” and “grounded entirely on supposition and speculation and not based on accuracy”.
One lawyer for Lady Mone appeared to reject the very notion that the Tory peer should have to answer questions from journalists. “You … appear to misunderstand our client’s responsibilities to you,” he wrote. “She is under no obligation to say anything to you.”
Here are seven claims made by representatives of the Tory peer, her husband and PPE Medpro – and what we know about them.
Tory peer had ‘no role’ in process by which PPE Medpro secured contracts
In December 2020, when reporters first began asking questions about Mone’s apparent links to a personal protective equipment company that had secured lucrative government contracts, her lawyer replied: “Baroness Mone has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro.” And PPE Medpro said: “PPE Medpro was not awarded the contract because of company or personal connections to the UK government or the Conservative party.”
What we know: Mone contacted the then Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and her fellow Tory peer Theodore Agnew in May 2020, offering to supply PPE “through my team in Hong Kong”. Agnew, also then a Cabinet Office minister, referred PPE Medpro to the “VIP lane”, through which it was awarded the government contracts.
Mone’s referral of PPE Medpro was a ‘solitary’ step
After the government revealed in November 2021 that Mone had recommended PPE Medpro to Gove and Agnew, Mone’s lawyer stated: “Having taken the very simple, solitary and brief step of referring PPE Medpro as a potential supplier to the office of Lord Agnew, our client did not do anything further in respect of PPE Medpro.”
What we know: Five months after the supposed “solitary step”, in October 2020, Mone apparently lobbied another minister, James Bethell, on behalf of PPE Medpro, in a failed bid to secure the company Covid testing contracts from the government. Four months after that, in February 2021, Jacqui Rock, the chief commercial officer for the government’s test-and-trace programme, emailed colleagues suggesting that Mone was still lobbying for testing contracts, stating: “Baroness Mone is going to Michael Gove and Matt Hancock today as she is incandescent with rage on the way she believes Medpro have been treating [sic] in the matter.”
Mone had ‘no involvement in the business’ of PPE Medpro
Deploying the language of aggressive legal threats, Mone’s lawyers have repeatedly rejected that she was “connected in any way” to the business. One lawyer said in December 2020 that “any suggestion of an association” between the Tory peer and PPE Medpro would be “inaccurate”, “misleading” and “defamatory”. Another said in February 2022: “You have now been placed on notice on numerous occasions of our client’s position in relation to PPE Medpro. She has no involvement in the business.”
What we know: Documents seen by the Guardian appeared to show that, besides repeatedly lobbying the government on behalf of PPE Medpro between May 2020 and February 2021, the Tory peer was involved – with her husband – behind the scenes in the company’s business affairs. Documents appear to show Mone and Barrowman included in correspondence in June 2020 between PPE Medpro’s suppliers about the cost price of the surgical gowns to be supplied under the second contract.
WhatsApp messages sent by Mone, apparently when she was on a private jet, appear to show her in June 2020 discussing with a person in the PPE Medpro supply chain the required sizes of the gowns, and details about the government’s purchase order process.
Mone ‘did not benefit financially’ from PPE Medpro
Asked in November 2021 why Mone did not declare PPE Medpro on her Lords register of interests, her lawyer replied: “For the avoidance of any doubt, Baroness Mone did not declare any interest as she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity.”
What we know: Documents seen by the Guardian indicate that Mone received £29m originating from the profits of PPE Medpro in October 2020. The money was paid into an Isle of Man trust of which she and her adult children were the beneficiaries. It was paid by Barrowman, who received at least £65m in PPE Medpro profits before distributing them through a network of offshore trusts, companies and accounts.
Barrowman is understood to have told his bank that the onward transfer of its profits via his personal bank account had been made “in his personal capacity”. Contacted about the new disclosures, a lawyer for Mone said: “There are a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues and she is under no duty to do so.” A lawyer who represents both Barrowman and PPE Medpro added that he had been instructed to say “that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong”.
Barrowman was ‘not an investor’ in PPE Medpro
In December 2020, a lawyer instructed by Barrowman told the Guardian: “Mr Barrowman is not an investor, director or shareholder in PPE Medpro.” In other correspondence they stated that Barrowman had never been an investor in the company, using past tense.
What we know: Documents seen by the Guardian indicate that Barrowman was an investor, lending a £3m initial capital injection to PPE Medpro from one of his offshore trusts, in June 2020. The investment was subsequently repaid, with interest. Contacted this week, PPE Medpro declined to comment about whether Barrowman had invested in the company. Barrowman also declined to offer further comment, citing live investigations, but his lawyer said he disputes the Guardian’s “claims and accusations”.
Barrowman had ‘no role’ in process through which PPE Medpro was awarded contracts
Also in December 2020, Barrowman’s lawyers said he “was not personally involved in working for [PPE Medpro] in relation to PPE contracts” and “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro”.
What we know: Documents suggest Barrowman was centrally involved in setting up PPE Medpro’s business deal with its supply chain partner company Loudwater Trade and Finance. Around the time PPE Medpro was securing the government contracts, Barrowman personally participated in a call with a Cabinet Office official on its behalf, documents indicate.
PPE Medpro’s gowns ‘kept NHS workers safe’
In a press release issued in December 2020, PPE Medpro claimed: “We are proud of the fact that we provided 210,000,000 [face] masks and 25,000,000 gowns, which undoubtedly helped keep our NHS workers safe at a time of shortages due to the Covid pandemic.”
What we know: The 25m surgical gowns, for which the government paid PPE Medpro £122m, were rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care after technical inspection and were never used in the NHS. The DHSC has been trying to recoup its money through a dispute resolution process. PPE Medpro insists its gowns passed technical checks and the company is entitled to keep the £122m. Either way, they have never been used to keep NHS workers safe.