Wednesday 20 December 2023

Furore over PPE


'Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the front-line in the first wave of the pandemic was one of the biggest concerns in March and April 2020. As well as NHS front line workers there were others front-line workers who required high grade PPE – particularly in social care settings, which were mainly private businesses.

That statement of well-known facts is from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee 42nd report of Session 2019-21 - COVID-19: Government procurement and supply of personal protective equipment (

The report continues - 'At each stage the Department for Health and Social Care maintain that no setting actually ran out of PPE. We heard compelling evidence from organisations representing front-line workers that stocks ran perilously low; single use items were reused; some was not fit for purpose and staff were in fear that they would run out. 

Government thought it was well-placed

to manage the COVID-19 pandemic because it had a plan and a stockpile of personal protective equipment. However, these were designed for an influenza pandemic and the plans, stockpile and PPE distribution arrangements were inadequate for a coronavirus pandemic.

The NHS’s existing suppliers of PPE (mostly from overseas) could not increase supply quickly enough to meet the extreme demand and urgency of the global situation. As well as the urgent need to procure PPE, government also needed to procure a wide range of other goods and services quickly during the pandemic. By 31 July 2020, it had awarded over 8,000 contracts for goods and services, such as PPE and professional services, in response to the pandemic, with a value of £18 billion.'

The high-priority lane (aka 'VIP' Lane):

The PAC report also stated - 'Government’s PPE buying team, within the parallel supply chain, received over 15,000 offers to supply PPE. This cross government PPE buying team set up a high-priority lane to separately assess and process high-priority leads that it considered more credible, which sat alongside an ordinary lane to process other leads. Leads that were considered more credible were those from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords but it is not clear why this assumption was made. The priority lane did not include organisations with expertise in the health and social care sector that had existing relationships with suppliers through their members or directly and were well-placed to assess the credibility of potential PPE suppliers, such as the British Medical Association. Around one in ten suppliers that came through the high-priority lane were awarded a contract compared with one in a hundred for the ordinary lane. There were no written rules to support those making referrals in deciding which leads to put forward ... '

The Public Accounts Committee returned to the topic in its 66th report of Session 2022-23 - PPE Medpro: awarding of contracts during the pandemic ( The report comments - 'Because there was no national centralised model for procuring and allocating PPE to the health and social care sectors that needed it at the time, the Department established a parallel supply chain and a ‘High Priority Lane’ (known generally as the ‘VIP’ lane). This allowed referrals of potential suppliers from MPs, Peers, ministers, and senior officials. Later, in January 2022, the High Court ruled that the use of the High Priority Lane was unlawful.  PPE Medpro was one of the private companies awarded valuable contracts having been referred through this High Priority Lane by Baroness Michelle Mone.  PPE Medpro was set up on 12 May 2020. It was awarded its first contract, worth £81 million, a month later on 12 June to supply 210 million face masks. The Department awarded a second contract a couple of weeks later on 26 June, worth £122 million for sterile surgical gowns.'

PPE Medpro:

A company known as Medpro PPE Ltd was incorporated on 12 May 2020 - PPE MEDPRO LIMITED overview - GOV.UK (

Baroness Mone:

Michelle Georgina Mone was created a Life Peer in the 2015 Dissolution Honours list issued on 27 August 2015. Some 50 life peerages have the same date - Lords Appointments: Life peerages created since 1958 - House of Lords Library ( 

High Court:

Good Law Project Ltd & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care [2022] EWHC 46 (TCC) (12 January 2022) (

Use of High Priority Lane unlawful - BM Insights - Blake Morgan

‘VIP lane’ for PPE contracts unlawful, High Court rules | News | Law Gazette

National Crime Agency (NCA):

The National Crime Agency (NCA) opened an investigation in May 2021. This is on-going. NCA questions Matt Hancock and Michael Gove in PPE Medpro inquiry | NCA (National Crime Agency) | The Guardian

House of Lords Commissioners for Standards:

January 2022 - the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards announced that Baroness Mone was subject to an inquiry relating to her alleged involvement in procuring contracts for PPE Medpro leading to potential breaches of the House of Lords Code of Conduct. 

6 December 2022 - It was announced that Baroness Mone would be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords.

Legal Proceedings:

On 19 December 2022 the Government commenced legal proceedings against PPE Medpro on one of the contracts worth £122 million for the supply of gowns. The Department has stated that it does not believe that these gowns were fit for use. This is a claim that PPE Medpro deny.

Further details of the government's claim appeared in a Financial Times article dated 23 February 2023 - PPE Medpro fights back against UK government claim of contract breach ( This article reported that the government alleged that PPE supplied was not in accordance with the terms of the contract. The government is seeking repayment of £122mn for the gowns, along with costs incurred as part of the case.

The legal action is said to be based on breach of contract and unjust enrichment - (see note below).

Freedom of Information requests:

The Cabinet Office was asked to provided correspondence between Ministers and Baroness Mone (Michelle Mone), PPE Medpro and Anthony Page (a director of PPE Medpro). 

The Cabinet Office initially withheld this information on the basis of section 43(2) (commercial interests) of FOIA. 

During the course of the Commissioner’s investigation of this complaint the Cabinet Office sought to rely on section 23(1) (security bodies) of FOIA. The Commissioner held that the requested information was exempt from disclosure on the basis of section 23(1) of Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Cabinet Office (Central government) [2023] UKICO 149867 (25 May 2023) (

A Timeline:

How the Michelle Mone scandal unfolded: £200m of PPE contracts, denials and a government lawsuit | Michelle Mone | The Guardian

The controversy:

The controversy lies more in the allegations against Baroness Mone and her husband Barrowman than in the fact that there was a high-priority lane to acquire PPE. 

Procurement is to be the subject of Module Five of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry - Procurement (Module 5) - UK Covid-19 Inquiry (

When the government published the PPE Medpro contracts, the links with Baroness Mone and her husband's Isle of Man based Knox Group came to light. According to its website, Knox Group is an 'independent, dynamic group of businesses offering fiduciary services, investment sourcing and asset management to a diverse and expanding client base. Each company is autonomously managed yet strategically aligned and are headquartered in Douglas, Isle of Man.'

In December 2020, Mone and Barrowman denied involvement - any suggestion of an association between Mone and PPE Medpro would be “inaccurate”, “misleading” and “defamatory.”

In November 2021, a lawyer acting for Mone stated that she had '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.' Also, '“Baroness Mone did not declare any interest as she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity.”

In early 2022, involvement with PPE Medpro continued to be denied but, in March 2022, The Guardian reported that Mone introduced PPE Medpro to both Michael Gove MP and Lord Agnew - Private emails reveal Gove’s role in Tory-linked firm’s PPE deals | Michael Gove | The Guardian

In April 2022, the NCA executed search warrants at Mone and Barrowman’s homes in London and the Isle of Man, and PPE Medpro’s offices - Michelle Mone’s home raided as PPE firm linked to Tory peer investigated | Conservatives | The Guardian

In November 2022, The Guardian revealed that Mr Barrowman was paid at least £65m from PPE Medpro’s profits - Revealed: Tory peer Michelle Mone secretly received £29m from ‘VIP lane’ PPE firm | Michelle Mone | The Guardian. It was also revealed that Barrowman then transferred £29m to an offshore trust known as Keristal of which Baroness Mone and her three adult children were beneficiaries.

A year later, in November 2023, Mone and Barrowman first acknowledged that they were involved with PPE Medpro - Michelle Mone admits involvement with ‘VIP lane’ PPE company | Michelle Mone | The Guardian

In December 2023, both Barrowman and Mone were interviewed by the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg. Mone admitted being untruthful with the press but stated that she had done so to protect her family from press attention - Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman speak to the BBC - BBC News


Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as mediation are usually encouraged in order to avoid costly court hearing held (usually) in public. Mediation can be an 'attractive' option for parties to a dispute since confidentiality terms are frequently included in agreements.

There can be little doubt that all parties to the PPE Medpro matter would wish it to 'go away' but that is maybe unlikely given the general public interest in knowing that public moneys are properly managed even in times of national difficult such as the pandemic. Nonetheless, one can imagine that with a general election due in 2024 the government would rather than matter be settled out of court as soon as possible.

Michelle Mone and mediation - should any deal be confidential | COMMediate

As at 20 December that is where the story appears to be and doubtless there is more to come.

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Breach of contract:

This depend on the precise terms of any contract and whether defendant adhered fully to those terms.

Any specifications / standards relating to PPE will be likely to be relevant - Designated standards: PPE - GOV.UK (

Unjust enrichment:

Unjust enrichment is an area of law that has seen considerable development in recent times and, in particular, since the House of Lords decision in Lipkin Gorman v Karpnale [1988] UKHL 12 (06 June 1991) ( 

Today it is possible to purchase many books on this topic such as the practitioners book "Unjust Enrichment" (Goff and Jones) now in its 10th Edition. 

This is a complex topic but one example might be that A issues a bank transfer in favour of B but, unknown to A, the funds are paid to C who refuses to return the money. 

Basically, the cases establish that there are 3 elements:

1. The defendant has been enriched (e.g. has received money or assets)

2. The enrichment of the defendants is viewed by the law as unjust

3. The defendant was enriched at the expense of the claimant.

Various defences are available..

Revenue and Customs v The Investment Trust Companies [2017] UKSC 29 (11 April 2017) (

New boss of Mone-linked PPE firm was censured in tax probe - BBC News

AML TAX (UK) LIMITED overview - Find and update company information - GOV.UK (

Lawyer apologises for saying Michelle Mone was not linked to PPE firm | Michelle Mone | The Guardian

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