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A documentary film about PPE which includes an interview with former Conservative peer Michelle Mone has been accused of leaving respected health professionals feeling duped into appearing, Byline Times can reveal.
Ms Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, are facing criminal allegations as part of a long-running investigation by the National Crime Agency into their involvement with PPE Medpro, which secured government contracts worth more than £200 million – a connection first revealed on the Byline Times in September 2020.
PPE Medpro funded a film created by the award-winning producer and presenter, Mark Williams-Thomas, in which Mone admitted her “regret” in not publicly admitting links to the firm, but insisted “we’ve done nothing wrong”.
In a statement, Mr Williams-Thomas defended his journalism, saying he had not “set out to mislead anyone”, adding: “We have been totally upfront about who funded the programme.”
There is a credit at the end of the film, around 1hr and 11 mins into the documentary
However, this newspaper has spoken to two contributors who say they were never told the documentary was backed by PPE Medpro – and that had they known they would not have become involved.
Mr Williams-Thomas says that when these contributors were approached and filmed PPE Medpro were not involved.
Nadra Ahmed CBE, Chairman of the National Care Association, a not-for-profit which represents many of the care home providers that struggled to source PPE during the pandemic, told Byline Times “I was never told at any point who was funding the documentary… Had I known, there is no way I would have done it because I do not have any desire to get involved in somebody trying to clear their name over something I know nothing about.”
David Oliver, a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, said he felt “betrayed” after being approached on the basis he had been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the PPE crisis during the pandemic.
The doctor, who spoke in the documentary about losing five colleagues to Covid-19, said: “Nothing gave me any reason to think this was not an independent film about the government’s handling of PPE. Mark Williams-Thomas seemed to have a track record in his industry and, as someone who has done plenty of TV interviews, the set-up seemed professional.
“It wasn’t until after the documentary was broadcast, and friends who had watched it contacted me to say there was a credit saying the project had been funded by PPE Medpro, that I found out. I don’t like the idea that I was duped into adding an air of respectability and expertise to an attempt by Michelle Mone and PPE Medpro to salvage their reputation.”
After discovering the film had been funded by PPE Medpro, Oliver emailed Williams-Thomas to “bollock” him. He said: “I confronted [him with] an email saying it was no way to treat professionals. I told him I felt betrayed.”
In a response to Oliver, which Byline Times has seen, Williams-Thomas said the project was originally going to be “22 video shorts about the issues around the supply of PPE during COVID, which were intended for release on Social Media and included interviews with suppliers… [but] all of the PPE suppliers turned down our invitation to appear in our programme.”
As such, he added: “It was sometime after we had filmed with you that we found out that only one PPE provider agreed to be interviewed, [so] it therefore made better editorial sense to change the format to a television documentary.”
Blaming the Screen Actors’ Guild strike and “other financial issues in the industry” for not having been able to get the documentary alternatively financed, Williams-Thomas went on: “The only way this programme was going to get finished was if somebody privately funded it.
“I talked it over with my team and decided to approach Doug [Barrowman]. Doug was quite hesitant, but after several meetings eventually agreed that PPE Medpro would fund it, but that we would keep full editorial control. So whilst the program was funded by PPE Medpro, the full editorial control and content of the programme was ours, and independent. This was really important because integrity is absolutely vital; we had full editorial control and in no way do I feel this has been undermined, and which is central to all of this.”
In the film, Williams-Thomas – who first came to public attention through his revelations about Jimmy Savile in 2012 – asked Mone whether she had “benefited in any way from PPE Medpro money either directly or indirectly”.
She replied: “Look, my husband’s an entrepreneur. There were many entrepreneurs involved in PPE, supplying PPE, and the consortium that he led supplied huge volumes at very competitive prices that saved the NHS tens of millions of pounds.
“What my husband decides to do after the event and who benefits from that is at his discretion. I am his wife and I may indirectly benefit, but that’s just like all other families around that are married. That’s just it, that is not my money. I don’t have that money, it’s not my money.”
Williams-Thomas also asked Mone whether she had “lied to the press” because she had denied involvement in PPE Medpro, which was “not true”.
She said: “I made an error in what I said to the press. I regret not saying to the press straight away: ‘Yes I am involved, and the government knew I was involved, and the emergency team, Cabinet team, knew I was involved, the government, [Department of Health and Social Care] knew that I was involved, the NHS, all of them knew I was involved.’ The legal team advised myself and my husband not to comment and not to say that of my involvement in PPE Medpro.”
In the documentary, which was released on YouTube on Sunday during the UK Covid-19 Inquiry and was described by Williams-Thomas on social media as a “WORLD EXCLUSIVE PROGRAMME”, he says that he had “complete access” to the “criminal case files” of Mone and Mr Barrowman.
It featured heavily redacted documents showing they have both been interviewed under caution regarding three criminal allegations.
“The NCA investigation into them both is in relation to allegations of conspiracy to defraud, fraud by false representation, and bribery, which they both categorically deny,” he added.
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The Guardian – which led on the story – has reported how Mone made an initial approach to ministers Michael Gove and Theodore Agnew on behalf of PPE Medpro in May 2020, offering to supply PPE and was awarded the newly formed company two contracts worth a total of £203m.
For years, Mone and Barrowman denied any involvement in PPE Medpro, via statements from their lawyers. When Byline Times first approached PPE Medpro about Mone its co-director likewise denied any links and stated “Our media lawyer Eddie is cc’d in above in case we need to take action against you.”
However, last month the Guardian revealed that the couple had for the first time publicly accepted their involvement in the company. In April 2022, the NCA raided PPE Medpro’s offices along with Mone and Barrowman’s homes in London and the Isle of Man. In November 2022, the Guardian reported leaked documents from HSBC bank which showed Barrowman was paid at least £65m from PPE Medpro’s profits. He then transferred £29m to an offshore trust, of which Mone and her three adult children were beneficiaries.
Two weeks later, Mone took leave of absence from the House of Lords, which her spokesperson said was “to clear her name”.
Following the film’s release, she wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday: “If I’m being honest, the public probably sees me as a horrible person, a liar, or even a cheat. But I am none of those things. These last 2 years have taken a horrendous toll on me personally, and I want to clear my name.”
Williams-Thomas told Byline Times that the film was in two parts and that the two contributors featured in the PPE section, not in the interview with Mone and Barrowman.
“At no stage have we set out to mislead anyone, and to suggest so is not supported or evidenced,” he told Byline Times: “The programme was absolutely NOT made to clear either Mone or Barrowman, but to investigate and show the case against them and to expose a very serious allegation against the DHSC. The programme features really strong journalism, but sadly for some journalists this has been missed or deliberately ignored, for other reasons and agendas.”
“We have been totally up-front about who funded the programme and as to why we went down that route, putting in place safeguards to ensure editorial control and as much independence as possible,” Williams-Thomas added.
Byline Times reached out to Mone for comment and will update this piece if we receive a response.