Michelle Mone admits involvement with ‘VIP lane’ PPE company | Michelle Mone

The Conservative peer Michelle Mone has acknowledged for the first time that she was involved with a company that was awarded government PPE contracts worth £200m during the Covid pandemic.

Lady Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman, has also acknowledged for the first time that he was involved in the company, PPE Medpro.

A representative of Barrowman told the Guardian that the Isle of Man-based businessman was an investor in PPE Medpro, and chaired and led the operation to supply personal protective equipment.

The admissions raise questions about years of denials from the couple. Until now, Mone and Barrowman have consistently and emphatically denied to the Guardian, via lawyers, that they were involved in the company.

In November 2020, Mone’s lawyer asserted that “Baroness Mone is not connected in any way with PPE Medpro”. Barrowman’s lawyers repeatedly denied that he was an investor in the company or a consortium supporting it, and said he “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro”.

In December 2020, a lawyer instructed by Mone and Barrowman said “any suggestion of an association” between the Tory peer and PPE Medpro would be “inaccurate”, “misleading” and “defamatory”.

And in February 2022, Mone’s lawyer wrote: “You [the Guardian] 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 … She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro.”

Three years on, a representative for the couple, who said he had Mone and Barrowman’s permission to respond to questions on their behalf, has made a statement that departs significantly from those denials.

The representative, who is also a spokesperson for PPE Medpro, made the admissions in a response to questions from the Guardian.

The representative said: “The UK government was fully aware of Baroness Mone’s involvement; like many other peers and MPs on the high priority lane, she acted as an intermediary/liaison between PPE Medpro and the Cabinet Office/Department of Health and Social Care.”

The representative added that Barrowman, who runs the Knox Group, a tax and wealth advisory firm in the Isle of Man, “was the chairman and leader of the PPE Medpro consortium that supplied the UK government”.

The representative said the “consortium” was a partnership between PPE Medpro and two other companies that were involved in sourcing the PPE: Loudwater Trade and Finance, based in London, and Eric Beare Associates, a Hong Kong company.

Barrowman provided half the money required upfront through his “family office”, a part of the Knox firm that the Guardian understands is ultimately controlled by Barrowman and manages his private wealth.

“The Knox 50% was provided by the Family Office of Doug Barrowman,” the representative said. The Guardian has previously revealed that PPE Medpro was listed as an entity of Barrowman’s family office in a Knox document.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) granted PPE Medpro two contracts in May and June 2020, near the start of the pandemic, to supply millions of face masks and sterile surgical gowns, for a total of £203m.

The contracts were processed through the DHSC’s “VIP” high priority lane, which fast-tracked offers of PPE from companies with connections to the Conservative party or government.

When the contracts were made public later that year, Mone and Barrowman issued repeated denials of their involvement in the company.

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The Guardian then revealed in a series of reports that Mone and Barrowman were involved with the company, and that Mone had made the first approach, to the then Cabinet Office ministers Michael Gove and Theodore Agnew, telling them she could source PPE through “my team in Hong Kong”.

Last November the Guardian reported that leaked HSBC bank documents indicated Barrowman was paid at least £65m from PPE Medpro’s profits, then transferred £29m into a trust for Mone and her three adult children.

Mone’s lawyer said at the time there were “a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues”; Barrowman’s lawyer said a continuing investigation limited what his client could say, but added that “there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong”. Mone and Barrowman still did not acknowledge they were involved in the company.

In the response to the Guardian’s latest questions, the representative of Mone and Barrowman said they had informed the government that they were involved from the beginning.

“Both Doug Barrowman and his wife, Baroness Mone, made a full written disclosure of their involvement to the Cabinet Office prior to the award of the PPE contracts,” he said. “The UK government was fully aware of Mr Barrowman’s role and that his group would make a commercial profit.”

The Guardian asked their representative if they would now provide further details about the extent of their roles, whether they now accepted they received the sums the Guardian had reported from PPE Medpro profits, and why they had persistently denied being involved. The spokesperson declined to provide any further information.

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The DHSC is suing PPE Medpro for the full return of the £122m it paid for the surgical gowns but never used, claiming they were unsafe for use in the NHS. The company is defending the claim.

The National Crime Agency is conducting an investigation into PPE Medpro, which is continuing. In a statement, an NCA spokesperson said: “The NCA opened an investigation in May 2021 into suspected criminal offences committed in the procurement of PPE contracts by PPE Medpro.”

The spokesperson for PPE Medpro declined to comment on the NCA investigation.

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