Government legal bill to fight PPE company linked to Tory peer Michelle Mone tops £10m

The government has racked up a legal bill of more than £10m to fight a firm linked to Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone over surgical gowns it provided during the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is suing PPE Medpro for more than £130m, claiming the items they provided were "unusable" as the company "failed" to provide the right certification to show the items had been "reliably sterilised for medical use".

But the company said the case would be "rigorously defended".

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PPE Medpro has found itself in the headlines over allegations Ms Mone may have profited from the firm winning contracts worth more than £200m to supply equipment after she recommended it to ministers in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

She has continued to deny the accusations, and is now taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords to "clear [her] name".

In an outline of the department's case sent to the High Court, Tom Weisselberg KC - who is leading the legal team - said the government paid £121,999,219.20 for the gowns after a contract was signed in June 2020.

However, he said a notice was sent to PPE Medpro in December of the same year "rejecting" the items.

"The rejection notice explained that the gowns had been rejected by DHSC because they did not comply with relevant laws applying to medical devices and because PPE Medpro had failed to provide certification to establish that the gowns had been reliably sterilised for medical use, rendering them unusable in the NHS," he said.

"The rejection notice required PPE Medpro to repay the price to DHSC, and to collect the rejected gowns at its own risk and expense, or to request that DHSC dispose of them at PPE Medpro's cost.

"PPE Medpro has not repaid the price, nor has it collected the gowns."

Mr Weisselberg said the government was now claiming "repayment of the price, alternatively damages and/or an indemnity, and its costs of storing and disposing of the gowns" - saying there was around £11m of "reasonably incurred" costs added to the claim.

'Vastly over-ordered'

The case was launched in December and, at that time, PPE Medpro accused the government of fighting over "contract technicalities".

A statement issued in December said: "The gowns were manufactured to the correct quality, standards and specification set out in the contract, delivered on time and at a price that was 50% of what DHSC had been paying at the time.

"By the end of 2020 it was clear that DHSC had vastly over-ordered and held five years supply of PPE across the seven major categories including gowns.

"It was clear that the DHSC would never be able to use all the PPE they procured."

The company accused the department of bringing in consultants "to pick over all the contracts and fight product not on quality but on contract technicalities that were never envisaged at the time of contract".

And the firm said it had made "numerous attempts at mediation with DHSC" but "they didn't want to settle".

A spokesperson from DHSC said: "We can confirm that we have commenced legal proceedings in the High Court against PPE Medpro Limited for breach of contract regarding gowns delivered under a contract dated 26 June 2020.

"We do not comment on matters that are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings."