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Baroness Mone: The PPE scandal made me ashamed to be a Tory – I am purely a scapegoat

Baroness Mone
Baroness Mone says she has been keeping a low profile because of the hate directed at her in the last two years

For more than two years, Baroness Mone has lived a reclusive life as she has endured repeated death threats over accusations her family illegally profited by selling unusable PPE equipment during the Covid pandemic.

The Ultimo bra entrepreneur and her husband Doug Barrowman have maintained their silence after coming under criminal investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA), with a separate civil case launched by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Now, however, the couple say they have decided enough is enough. They are beginning a public fightback in which they insist they are entirely innocent and make a series of startling counter-claims against the DHSC and its representatives.

Lady Mone and Mr Barrowman say it is the DHSC, not Mr Barrowman’s firm PPE MedPro, which is at fault, and that the PPE gowns and masks they delivered met Government specifications and were sold at well below average prices in an inflated global market.

They also claim that an individual described only as a “DHSC negotiator” suggested in a phone call that they could make both the civil and the criminal case disappear if they were prepared to pay a big enough out-of-court settlement.

Recording crucial to documentary

In a recording that forms the centrepiece of a documentary about the case released on YouTube on Sunday, an official involved in mediating the civil case says they have not offered enough money to “call the dogs off” but a “bigger pot” might “be there to satisfy both elements”.

Mr Barrowman claims that in another call he was asked: “Would you pay more for the other matter to go away?”

Lady Mone, ennobled by David Cameron as an exemplar of rags-to-riches aspiration, feels bitterly betrayed by the Conservative Party she once supported. She believes it is now using her as a scapegoat for its own failings in the multi-billion PPE procurement scandal.

“I am ashamed of being a Conservative peer given what this Government has done to us,” she told The Telegraph.

She says her husband’s firm is the only one of the 51 companies that secured PPE contracts through the so-called VIP lane to face a criminal investigation, despite clear similarities. PPE Medpro is also the only one out of 24 firms who supplied sterile gowns in single-wrapping to face litigation, even though the other firms were also accused of the same failure.

In all, £4 billion was spent on unusable PPE. Storage costs alone for the disputed PPE Medpro items are running at £3.2 million a year.

None of the other suppliers, though, has as high a profile as Mr Barrowman has through his marriage to Lady Mone. There has also been media interest in the pair over the accusation that an Isle of Man trust of which the peer and her adult children are beneficiaries received £29 million as a result of the £203 million in PPE contracts awarded to PPE Medpro.

“We will win because we have done nothing wrong,” Lady Mone tells Mark Williams-Thomas, the investigative journalist and former detective, in the documentary. It’s cruel and it’s nasty, but we will win.”

Baroness Mone and her husband, Doug Barrowman
Baroness Mone and her husband, Doug Barrowman

Lady Mone and Mr Barrowman believe the DHSC is guilty of criminal behaviour, which they describe as “an abuse of power”.

She adds: “I think everyone feels that because we have been silent that we are guilty. The whole thing has been so scary, but you just don’t know what to do. Doug and I look at one another. We think, ‘No, today we are going to come out and we are going to respond to them and respond to that message that they said, you know, ‘put her in jail, orange jumpsuits, and we’re going to throw acid over her’ and everything else.’”

The documentary is funded by PPE Medpro but Williams-Thomas, who is best known for his ITV documentary that exposed Jimmy Savile as a paedophile, retained full editorial independence.

It discloses new details of what the couple are accused of. At the height of the Covid pandemic the Government, desperately short of PPE, asked private companies for help in procuring gowns, masks and other equipment. A so-called VIP lane was set up for ministers to fast-track applications from personal contacts they could vouch for.

Among them was Mr Barrowman, who formed a consortium to procure PPE using an extensive network of business contacts and suppliers. The firm, which he called PPE Medpro, won a £122 million contract for 25 million surgical gowns and an £80.85 million contract for 210 million facemasks.

Despite being delivered and paid for, the gowns were never used in the NHS. The DHSC claims they were not fit for purpose and is suing in the High Court for breach of contract. The lawsuit seeks a full refund– and a further £11.6 million in costs.

In May 2021, the NCA opened an investigation into suspected fraud and bribery relating to both contracts, alleging that Lady Mone was not transparent about her involvement in a procurement process that her family benefited from financially.

In Sept 2021, Mr Barrowman entered a process of mediation with the DHSC. He says he was prepared to make a payment to the DHSC only because the legal costs of fighting the civil case would likely be higher than settling.

It was during this process that he alleges a DHSC negotiator suggested the criminal case might “go away” if he paid a big enough sum.

He says he was “gobsmacked” when the negotiator allegedly asked if he would pay more for the other matter to go away, by which he assumed the negotiator meant the criminal investigation. His lawyers advised him to call the negotiator back and record the call.

In the recording, the negotiator tells him: “Obviously we understand you’ve made an offer and it’s a sizeable sum of money. We’re just trying to piece together… and thinking through… and I think our view at the moment, and where we stand, is it is probably not likely to be enough to call the dogs off.

“So, I just had it in my mind, and the reason I asked it, because I can completely understand, you know, and what effectively happens if, if on the NCA side… and I know you’re gonna obviously fight that very hard, and you don’t agree with it… but I was just trying to work through in my mind, thinking, is Doug sort of thinking here that you know there’s a…that he has to hold a bit of what he might be willing to pay back because he’s unsure of what’s happening over there?”

Mr Barrowman replied: “You know my belief. I believe that somewhere up the food chain the two matters are joined. Both the civil and the criminal matter. And I believe that you felt, you know, that maybe the criminal matter was an extra leverage on me to make a settlement on the civil. And this was raised for the first time by you yesterday, and I was just intrigued and I thought about it, and I was just keen to find out more and that was all because that can be very relevant. Very relevant.

The negotiator responded: “Yeah. No, and obviously we, unfortunately there’s, from our perspective there’s, you know, we said a number of times, we don’t have any responsibility, we don’t have any meaningful contact there, so there’s nothing we can reasonably do. It was purely just whether, you know whether, there’s a bigger pot if you like, that is there to satisfy both elements.”

A spokesman for the NCA told The Telegraph: “The NCA is operationally independent of government, and our investigations are intelligence-led.”

‘I was upfront with officials’

Lady Mone says it is “100 per cent a lie” to suggest she was not up-front with officials, saying there are more than 1,400 emails and communications on WhatsApp and phone calls in which her personal connection to Mr Barrowman is explicit.

Mr Barrowman, 58, says there was absolutely nothing wrong with the gowns – and that they can prove it.

One of the issues the claim is focused on is that PPEMedPro produced gowns that were only delivered in one layer of protective wrapping, when the NHS needed them double-wrapped.

Mr Barrowman says he has documents that show the contract specified single-wrap only, and it was only after health officials realised their mistake in Sept 2020 that they began contacting suppliers, including PPE MedPro. He says others supplied single-wrapped gowns too but none are being pursued through the courts.

The lawsuit also alleges that PPE MedPro did not correctly certify their gowns were sterile, but Mr Barrowman insists the certification they provided was “fully compliant”, a claim which will be tested in court.

The DHSC also claims in the lawsuit that 92 per cent of the 60 PPE Medpro gowns tested by the government were found not to be sterile.

But the couple say there is a three-week gap in the Government’s account of what happened to the gowns after they were taken away for testing, rendering the results invalid. They also say the tested gowns were taken from just two of 524 containers supplied by PPE Medpro and that all of them were sterilised at the same facility, even though seven sterilisation facilities were used, meaning the sample was not representative.

Mr Barrowman says his firm actually saved the Government £100 million by undercutting other firms that were charging vastly more.

In the documentary, a tearful Baroness Mone is asked how she thinks people see her. “I think they probably see me as a horrible person,” she says. “A liar, a cheat, a thief. And I think they’ve just made up their minds.”

The couple claim she has received more than 450 threats on social media, and they have kept the lowest possible profile since allegations first surfaced in 2021.

Lady Mone, born Michelle Allan in Glasgow’s East End, grew up in poverty and left school at 15 with no qualifications but had a talent for marketing which she used to launch her own lingerie and beauty brands.

She says she is “a very, very strong woman” but the investigation has taken its toll.

Asked how she feels, she replies: “On a scale of 10 being the worst – 12. I’m seeing a doctor and on medication and everything else.”

‘Anyone would have a nightmare’

Lady Mone, 52, claims to be haunted by visions of NCA investigators raiding the couple’s Isle of Man mansion.

“I think anyone would have a nightmare,” she says. “And seeing them over my bed... It’s horrific.”

Lady Mone admits that she has made mistakes in her response to the newspaper reports of the controversy, in particular in an initial denial that she had any involvement with PPE Medpro.

“I made an error in what I said to the Press,” she says in the film. “I regret not saying to the Press straight away, ‘Yes, I am involved.’ And the Government knew I was involved.”

In the documentary she also insists that the £65 million in profits that PPE Medpro made from the Government contracts is “not my money” and that who benefits from it is at her husband’s discretion, a claim that will seem confusing to most married couples, even without the knowledge of the £28.8 million that went into a family trust.

A DHSC spokesman told The Telegraph that it does not comment on leaks, that its staff adhere to all laws and regulations, and: “We do not comment on ongoing legal cases.”