The disgraced Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her husband are being investigated by the UK’s National Crime Agency, the couple have confirmed in a statement in which they claimed they were being “hung out to dry” over the government’s Covid-19 PPE failings.
Mone’s husband, Doug Barrowman, accused the government of using the NCA “to threaten criminal proceedings” to make the couple reach a settlement in relation to PPE Medpro, a consortium he led and which is being sued by the UK government for £122m plus costs for “breach of contract and unjust enrichment”.
Barrowman said he and his family had been “treated as a punchbag by the media for the past three years” and “received death threats and a constant torrent of online and other abuse” as a result of the dispute.
The NCA is investigating allegations of fraud and bribery surrounding the company, the Sunday Times reported at the weekend. Mone and Barrowman both deny the allegations.
Mone last month admitted she had lied to the media by denying her links to PPE Medpro, which made millions of pounds from a deal to supply PPE via the “VIP lane” after she referred it to ministers in May 2020.
In the statement issued on Monday morning on X, part of a PR offensive the couple have mounted, Barrowman said: “I understand why the British public feel angry but their anger should not be directed of Michelle or I [sic]. Yes, Medpro made a profit – which was in line with the margins made by other providers of PPE.
“Yes, Michelle was involved in introducing Medpro to the Cabinet Office. After all, Michelle had 25 years’ experience in sourcing and manufacturing of mass-produced goods and knew first-hand the logistical challenges of sourcing, supplying and delivering large amounts of product at short notice.”
The government alleges that protective surgical gowns provided as part of the contract were unfit to use. PPE Medpro denies this.
Barrowman said it was “simply unacceptable” that the UK Covid inquiry was not scheduled to review pandemic PPE procurement until 2025 – after a general election expected to take place this year.
“The stark reality is that DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] has brought this claim against Medpro at a time of increased scrutiny of how it overspent by so much and when questions were being asked as to why the government was writing off £9bn of PPE out of the £13.1bn spent,” he said.
“How on earth did the UK government manage to purchase five years of PPE when it was only supposed to build up four months of stock? Yet no one has been held accountable at DHSC.”
Barrowman went on to call for the resignation of Sir Chris Wormald, the most senior civil servant in the DHSC, alleging the department took its action against the couple at a time when it was under increased scrutiny over how much it had “overspent” and why it had written off PPE.
“Michelle and I are being hung out to dry to distract attention from government incompetence in how it handled PPE procurement at [a] time of national emergency.”
The couple had attempted to settle the dispute numerous times and had been told to increase the figure before the government was prepared to “call the dogs off”, Barrowman said, using a phrase that he suggested had been used to describe the NCA investigation.
After using lawyers to repeatedly claim to the media she was not connected to PPE Medpro, Mone now accepts she was involved in the business and that her husband received more than £60m in profits, £29m of which he transferred to an offshore trust of which Mone and her three adult children were the beneficiaries.
However, the affair has also descended into a row between the couple and Conservative politicians, with Mone hitting back last month at a former Tory health minister, Lord Bethell, after he accused her of not being honest with him during the pandemic about her financial interests.
She also claimed the Cabinet Office, which Michael Gove led at the time, the government and the NHS “all knew about my involvement from the very beginning” before awarding her husband’s firm £203m in contracts.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal cases.”