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Threats, Denials, and Disinformation: Why Michelle Mone’s ‘Apology’ Over PPE Medpro Lies Doesn’t Cut It

Her representatives threatened to sue us for reporting the facts. Now the truth is finally out

Entrepreneur Michelle Mone joined the Lords in 2015 as Baroness Mone of Mayfair, after being appointed by David Cameron. Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

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“Baroness Mone is neither an investor, director or in any way associated with PPE Medpro. She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro. Similarly, Mr Barrowman is not an investor, director or shareholder in PPE Medpro. He has also never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro….

PPE Medpro has no direct or indirect connection to the Conservative Party.” – then-PPE Medpro Director, July 2021.

Wrong, all of it. The truth comes out eventually.


PPE Medpro clinched its first Government contract just 44 days after its launch. One of two deals which would bag it a staggering £200 million for protective equipment during the pandemic. 

The contracts in question included £81 million for face masks and £122 million for sterilised gowns intended for the NHS. When it arrived from China, most of it was found to be unusable. By that time, the profits had been stashed in the Isle of Man. 

As countless parliamentary and journalistic investigations have found, vast sums of taxpayers’ cash were handed out like this, without standard competitive tender processes or scrutiny, throughout the pandemic. 

In this case, Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone had tipped the firm run by her husband, Doug Barrowman, to Michael Gove – without declaring that she stood to benefit. 

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When Byline Times became the first to disclose the contracts in September 2020 – and her role in securing them via the Government’s PPE ‘VIP Fast Lane’,  her lawyers hit back. 

What happened next felt like a textbook example of denial, evasion and threats against reporting that was in the public interest. 

Baroness Mone and Doug Barrowman, initially through PPE Medpro’s representatives, vehemently denied any association with the company. 

Their representatives asserted: “Neither Mr. Barrowman nor Baroness Mone are or have ever been a Director, shareholder, investor or in any way associated with PPE Medpro Limited.” They “put [us] clearly on notice” for costly legal action, branding our work “defamatory”. 


Empty Threats

Even if we’d won, libel law is so stacked against public interest reporting in the UK, that we could have faced costs in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. Unlike in the US, the burden of proof in libel cases here lies with the publication proving the truth, not the powerful proving it was a lie. 

As indeed one of Mone’s lawyers at Levy & McRae Solicitors highlighted – presumably with glee – when we pointed out Mone’s links to PPE Medpro: “In any defamation action, the onus of proof lies with the publisher.”

They went on: “You appear to be proposing to write an article which, if your email is reflective of it, would be grossly defamatory of our client.”

They made no attempt to dispute the facts. We can now infer that’s because our reporting was entirely accurate. 

Threatening libel action in the UK is effectively free, and has zero consequences – except of course, for the journalists fearing they could be personally made bankrupt and lose their homes and livelihoods. 

By November 2022, the truth was becoming even clearer. The Guardian reported leaked HSBC documents showing Barrowman receiving at least £65m from PPE Medpro’s profits, later transferring £29m to the Keristal Trust – a trust of which Mone and her children were beneficiaries. 

This blasted her earlier claims into the water. 

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One of Mone’s representatives told us last year: “It would be improper for my client to engage with you on matters which are reportedly part of an ongoing police investigation.” 

Again, this plea for privacy now reads as a parody, given that Mone has just blasted her side of the story through a PPE Medpro-funded documentary, and a BBC interview amid a National Crime Agency investigation (she and Barrowman deny any illegality).  

We pointed out that the libel threats appear to be without substance. Another lawyer (there were many) hit back: “That is not only defamatory of our client, but of us and indeed of her previous agents. If you report that explicitly or by implication, it will be actionable.”

Nearly all this correspondence, of course, was branded “not for publication”. We were told we could not even publish the threats (we ignored this outrageous demand, of course). 

Threats, threats, and more threats. For reporting the truth. Did she lie to her lawyers, or did the lawyers knowingly mislead journalists? 

One of her first lawyers of the scandal has denied that he “knowingly or deliberately misled, or attempted to mislead, or allowed myself to be complicit in the acts or omissions of others in my reply.”

Mone, though an unreliable narrator, has previously said she initially “denied involvement due to legal advice,” the BBC reported. 

It could be up to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to decide who is telling the truth on this one. 


What Happens Now? 

In December 2022, the Department for Health, under pressure, announced it would attempt to sue PPE Medpro for the return of £122m, citing the PPE’s unsuitability for NHS use (PPE Medpro deny wrongdoing).

Because, in the end, this is not just about funds being diverted from Government coffers to Tory peers and their families, but the very safety of healthcare workers when they were dying from Covid in large numbers.

A PPE Medpro director at the time, Anthony Page, warned us: “We trust that there will be no inaccurate or misleading statements within your article. If that were to be the case then we will instruct our lawyers immediately” for libel action. 

Such threats, often termed ‘SLAPP’ (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), were, in our eyes, designed to silence us through fear of litigation.

The legal correspondence from PPE Medpro and its representatives was peppered with denials and threats, aiming to dissuade journalists from probing further into a matter of public interest and taxpayer money. All of these threats have of course withered to dust the more the truth emerged. 

Baroness Mone is now on a leave of absence from the House of Lords, but she presumably remains a Tory member and able to take the Tory whip when she returns to the chamber. 

While under active investigation by the National Crime Agency, she has admitted to lying about her involvement in PPE Medpro. What impact it will have on the case is unclear, but it adds extra irony to the firm telling us details about the case were strictly “confidential” and therefore unreportable while Byline Times and others were uncovering new evidence of her involvement. 

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Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday (17 December), Mone admitted – after years of dissembling – that her claim of having zero involvement in PPE Medpro was a lie.  

She apologised for lying – but the words rang hollow when in the same breath she said she’d “done nothing wrong.” Mone told the BBC “it’s not a crime” to lie to the press. That’s true, but the law isn’t the ultimate marker of what is right and wrong. It is a floor, not a ceiling. 

My colleagues have received no apology from her, her husband, or PPE Medpro. 

She did not just lie to the press. In doing so, she lied to the public. And she went further than lying – her representatives threatened libel action that could crush outlets like ours, for attempting to report the truth. 

Our gaze must turn to the Government’s role in enabling and indeed welcoming cronyism in its ranks. 

The PPE Medpro scandal isn’t just a tale of corporate greed or political nepotism; it’s a clarion call for systemic change.  It’s a reminder that accountability and transparency aren’t just ideals to aspire to, but necessities. 

Whatever comes of the civil or criminal legal cases, it is clear that the pandemic, a catastrophe for human life, was exploited by those who saw an opportunity amid the chaos. 

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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