Today
Sat 23 January 2021

Sam Bright speaks to the owner of a naval design firm about how he acquired a contract to supply face masks – who also appears to reject the consensus of scientists and officials on the Coronavirus pandemic

A multi-million-pound contract for the supply of face masks was awarded to a small firm – specialising in supplying products for boats – which claims to have contacted the Cabinet Office, offering to buy a machine in China that could manufacture the personal protective equipment.

Government documents show that Ocean Footprint Limited, based in Wiltshire near Salisbury, was awarded a £5.19 million contract for the supply of face masks in April.

The firm, incorporated in 2016, works in the field of “naval design and architecture”, according to its website, and supplies “goods to boatyards and engineers in six continents”. It is is co-owned by Peter Harrison and Charmain Roper, the latter of whom is a retired nurse.

As one might expect, the firm does not specialise in the PPE procurement business. “I’m not a mask expert,” Harrison told Byline Times.

However, despite this, Ocean Footprint convinced the Cabinet Office that it could supply the goods. Primarily, Harrison said, it made a commitment to purchase a machine in China that could manufacture masks. Harrison said he contacted the Cabinet Office through a range of local business groups – which had been asked by the Government to identify any prospective PPE suppliers.

Julian Malins is also on the Ocean Footprint board. A retired barrister, he has a history in politics, having served as a councillor in the City of London and having contested the Pontefract and Castleford constituency in the 1987 General Election for the Conservative Party. His brother, Humfrey Malins, was the Conservative MP for Croydon North West from 1983 to 1992, and later MP for Woking from 1997 to 2010.

In the 2019 General Election, Julian Malins stood as a Brexit Party candidate in Salisbury. This is where Malins met Harrison, who volunteered during the campaign and acted as Malins’ assistant.

Returning the favour, Malins agreed to sit as a non-executive director on the Oceans Footprint board, at Harrison’s request. This, Harrison said, happened after the company was awarded the Government PPE contract – to signal to the company’s suppliers, and perhaps Boris Johnson’s administration, that Oceans Footprint was a serious outfit.

He said that the insinuation that Malins helped the company to procure the contract – made by other publications – is completely false. “At no point has [Malins] had an active role,” he told Byline Times.

Using its pre-existing links to the far-east, the company produced the masks and shipped them to the UK. Ocean Footprint fulfilled its order book of three million masks on time, Harrison claimed, although not without procuring a second machine.

Ultimately, it seems, the order ran into problems thanks to delivery issues caused by other suppliers. “The irony is that I bought the second machine to deliver on time, and a company that is doing the logistics for the NHS was unable to take the delivery in, and I incurred costs at Heathrow for five weeks of storage,” Harrison told Byline Times.

This chimes with other logistical issues experienced by the Government in recent weeks. Indeed, in late November it was reported that 11,000 containers of PPE were causing a logjam at the port of Felixstowe, at a cost of £1 million a day. This issue also now appears to have replicated at Southampton, with Westbound Logistics claiming that a rush to divert vessels away from Felixstowe, along with Southampton’s own PPE backlog, has led to “severe congestion”, “transport backlogs” and “price increases”.

The Government’s procurement process has been a glaring failure in a pandemic plagued by multiple disasters. As two recent National Audit Office (NAO) reports made clear: the Government failed to adequately stockpile PPE prior to the pandemic, then falsely assumed the existing NHS process could deliver the equipment, before panicking and paying over the odds – to the tune of billions – for PPE that largely hasn’t yet arrived.

This frenzy has been underwritten by a system of patronage whereby firms with links to the Conservative Party have been awarded deals worth hundreds of millions. As the first NAO report stipulated, one in 10 suppliers (47 out of 493) channelled through a “high-priority” lane – open only to firms with links to MPs, ministers and officials – obtained contracts, compared to less than one in a hundred (104 of 14,892) of those processed through the ordinary lane. Harrison said he is unaware which lane Ocean Footprint was assigned to.

The Labour Party has now called a House of Commons debate, set for 9:30am tomorrow, to scrutinise the Government over the contents of the NAO reports. With little ground to stand on, it will be interesting to see the elaborate gymnastics performed by the Government to avoid any blame for its long list of failures.


The COVID Con?

However, despite acquiring a Government contract, both Harrison and Roper appear to reject the consensus of scientists and officials on the Coronavirus pandemic.

The pair have shared a number of posts on Twitter, which call into question the reported impact of COVID-19 in the UK and the efficacy of vaccines.

On 7 December, for example, Harrison shared a post from another Twitter user, which claimed that “the vaccine narrative” is the “greatest con in medical history”. “When dust eventually clears on this”, the post adds, “anyone involved in pushing it through, be it Govt, Media, Pharma or Healthcare professionals – should all be held liable”.

In another post, Harrison himself congratulates a right-wing YouTuber for conducting an interview with a retired nurse who questions the scientific basis of the pandemic. Harrison has also shared posts suggesting that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is part of a global elite alongside Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, who is the subject of many Coronavirus-related conspiracy theories.

Byline Times spoke to Harrison, who said that “something doesn’t add up” with the Coronavirus pandemic and that he wasn’t sure if he was going to have a vaccine – suggesting that they haven’t been subjected to enough testing. He did recognise, however, that vaccines would help us to “get back to normal”.

Although Harrison’s Twitter bio does publicly feature his role as managing director of Ocean Footprint, including a link to the company’s website, he told Byline Times that it was a personal account and does not reflect the views of his business.

Roper has also shared a number of similar views on her Twitter account. One retweeted post claims falsely that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Gates “could cause sterility in up to 97% of women, and will also change the DNA of 100% of people who receive it”.

Roper is the only other shareholder in Ocean Footprint, alongside Harrison, and is one of three company directors. Other posts shared by Roper include one calling the COVID-19 vaccine a “bio weapon” and another labelling the Conservative Government as “dictatorial” and “even dangerous”.

Both Roper and Harrison largely retweet the views of others. However, neither of their profiles feature the common disclaimer stating that ‘retweets do not necessarily mean endorsements’. The consistency of the views shared on their profiles also indicates they are shared, by and large, by Roper and Harrison – or at least they deem these ideas worthy of further publicity and attention.

While this does not reflect on the company’s ability to carry out the work it has been paid to, it is ironic that the Government commissioned individuals whose views appear to be radically divergent from, and even hostile to, the Government’s.


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