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A Government trade advisor and Conservative donor, who won Covid contracts worth £164 million after being referred to the ‘VIP Lane’ by his long-term political ally Michael Gove has admitted deleting emails from the account through which he conducted the deals, a court has been told.
David Meller, who donated tens of thousands of pounds to Mr Gove and the Conservative Party before his beauty firm Meller Designs was awarded six large Government contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic, was revealed in a commercial litigation case he has brought against a former business associate to have a “penchant to…delete emails”.
Solicitors for Meller – who has a vast network of political connections that include senior Conservative politicians Nadhim Zahawi and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who last year appointed Meller to the UK Board of Trade where he advises the Government on trade strategy – said: “In the usual course of business, Mr Meller had a practice of deleting his emails after they had been actioned.”
The emails in question relate both to Meller’s personal email address as well as to his Meller Designs email account, and cover everything prior to March 2023.
It includes the period Meller successfully negotiated the mass supply of PPE with the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for Government procurement and in which Gove was at the time a minister.
In addition to the practice of deleting his emails, Meller also openly concedes he has agreed several high-value contracts, including one with the Defendant, T&P Real Estate, which is said to exceed £1.4 million, on the back of “oral agreements” and a WhatsApp message.
Defending, Jonathan Davey KC, for property developer T&P Real Estate, said in a case management hearing on Friday: “This is a remarkable position. For the defendant, being sued in relation to an oral contract, that sets alarm bells ringing.”
Niall McCullough, for Meller, said his client had been advised while seeking legal advice ahead of the case to “preserve relevant documents”.
Mr McCullough said: “We didn’t say [Meller] destroyed all documents; we said [he] destroyed some documents. This is not a case where [he has] destroyed everything.
“This [email deletion] was pre-litigation conduct [which began in March 2023].”
Mr McCullough conceded it was not known how likely it was that Meller’s emails could be retrieved.
“We are making enquiries with [Meller’s] IT provider as to the possibility and cost of retrieving emails deleted from his [business] account,” he said.
“Our preliminary enquiries…suggest it is unlikely that it will be possible to retrieve deleted items from [Meller’s personal account].”
A Government spokesperson said: “Ministers had no involvement in these procurement decisions.
“In the height of the pandemic, we had to act swiftly to procure PPE, competing in a global market where demand massively outstripped supply.
“Potential suppliers often passed on offers of PPE to MPs, civil servants and ministers – and these offers were then passed onto professional procurement specialists for assessment, with due diligence carried out on all companies in advance of procurement and every company subjected to the same checks.”
A Network of Interests
Meller’s case concerns a 2019 multi-million property redevelopment deal he is alleged to have provided funding towards in association with former Goldman Sachs vice- chairman Michael Sherwood – one of several Meller and Mr Sherwood did together – which has seen Meller’s business practices come under scrutiny.
Nicknamed ‘Woody’, Sherwood was once one of the City’s highest-paid bankers with a wealth of £185 million, but the 58-year-old quit the firm in 2016 after failing to disclose a request for a £40 million loan from controversial British retailer Sir Philip Green, with whom he had a close friendship and a shared partiality to expensive yachts.
Aside from his deletion of emails, Meller – who was awarded a CBE in 2018 and was on the Department for Education’s board of directors when Gove was Secretary of State for Education, before he resigned in 2018 over a sexual harassment scandal surrounding The Presidents Club, of which he was joint chairman – was revealed in court not to have “worked from” a laptop or desktop computer during the late 2019 period the litigation relates to.
This was around six months before Meller’s company was awarded the first two of its Government PPE contracts, worth a combined £66.9 million, in May 2020. It is not known in what fashion Meller negotiated those deals in the two months after the pandemic began in March 2020.
The businessman – who, despite having admitted borrowing £600,000 from Sherwood to finance the deal because “he did not have the cash funds” is described in court filings as a “high net worth individual” – admitted he agreed his financial backing to the T&P Real Estate Ltd project following a handful of unminuted phone calls and “in person” meetings between himself, Sherwood, and T&P’s then director Joshua Garside.
A single WhatsApp message, sent by Mr Garside to Meller, is said to be the only written proof in existence pertaining to any part of the negotiations, the terms of which are disputed by both parties.
Meller claims £880,000 of his funding was to be in the form of money “roll[ed] over” from, several named companies he had an interest in, one of which at the time of the alleged loan had been dissolved (Secure Sleep Properties LLP), and another that was in administration and is now insolvent (Wellington Old Co. Ltd).
Another company named by Meller that he claims to have rolled money over from, Berkshire Assets (West London) Ltd, collapsed last year. The latest administrator’s report showed the company’s investors had lost more than £30 million, and HMRC was owed £186,000.
After the failure of the deal, the businessman decided to take legal action against T&P Real Estate Ltd in an attempt to recoup money he says he invested.
Meller is seeking all of his money back from T&P Real Estate Ltd, plus interest and an exit fee, claiming any money he placed into the £14.5 million redevelopment in Sutton, Surrey, was only ever a loan.
In response, T&P Real Estate Ltd have launched a counterclaim against Meller.
They say that the money advanced under the alleged loan arrangement between Sherwood and Meller did not beneficially belong to Meller, that none of the £880,000 “roll over” money promised was ever received, and that Meller failed to bring in a further £1.4 million investment from Marron Capital LLC as they say he had promised to.
They claim Meller’s son, Jonathan, who is a minor shareholder in one of his father’s investment companies, and who is said to have conducted business on his father’s behalf, had assured them he had had a pre-existing relationship with the US-based investment firm.
Meller, who has declined to detail the arrangements of the loan from Sherwood but claims he paid it back a year later in November 2020, argues that it should have been the responsibility of Garside – who was a director of a number of companies Meller had an interest in – to enact the “roll over” of funds from their other businesses.
Meller says it should effectively have been Garside’s responsibility report on the finances of the companies the pair were jointly involved in, and to look after arrangements for the “rolling over” of funding from those companies.
T&P argue there is no proof that such an arrangement between Meller and Garside existed and, even if it did, such an action lacked “legal legitimacy”. They add that “it would be commercially nonsensical for T&P to accept a ‘rolled-over’ ‘investment’” which ultimately would not amount to any new money being advanced to the company, and instead would be taking on an assumed debt.
Meller also says he never agreed it was his obligation to seek investment from Marron Capital LLC, and that he was in fact told by T&P that no funding from Marron Capital LLP was required.
Byline Times will continue to cover the case, which will go to trial in November.