The yacht, the wedding and £29m: Michelle Mone’s life during the Covid crisis

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In the summertime of 2021, erstwhile a traumatised Britain was enduring a 3rd question of Covid infections arsenic it struggled to look from the pandemic, the Conservative adjacent Michelle Mone posted a photograph connected Instagram of herself and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, successful the Mediterranean. They were connected their caller luxury yacht, Lady M.

Mone, 51, who attained personage presumption done her bra and lingerie company, Ultimo, and was appointed to the House of Lords by David Cameron successful 2015, told her followers: “Today I’m feeling reflective. I consciousness truthful grateful to beryllium wherever I am, successful a beauteous portion of the satellite with the radical I emotion the most. It wasn’t easy. There were immoderate existent challenges, some emotionally and physically.

“Business isn’t easy. But it is rewarding.”

Mone and Barrowman onboard the Lady M successful  the Mediterranean.
Mone and Barrowman onboard the Lady M successful the Mediterranean. Photograph: Michelle Mone/Instagram

The societal media update astir the sun-soaked luxury “Lady (Michelle) Mone OBE”, arsenic she describes herself connected her societal feeds, was enjoying connected platform prompted an evident question: during a planetary wellness and economical crisis, what concern had she and Barrowman recovered that was truthful rewarding?

There had been speculation immoderate months earlier that the couple’s bully luck whitethorn person had immoderate transportation to 2 ample PPE contracts that the authorities awarded to a recently formed company, PPE Medpro, during Covid’s archetypal deadly wave. The contracts were awarded via the “VIP lane” for companies recommended by Conservative MPs and peers and different politically connected people, but the authorities did not disclose astatine that clip that PPE Medpro’s “VIP” had been Mone.

On paper, PPE Medpro had evident links with Mone: the company’s directors, Anthony Page and Voirrey Coole, worked for Barrowman’s Isle of Man Knox Group, and Page had been the registered caput of Mone’s institution MGM Media, which managed her brand.

Asked successful precocious autumn 2020 aft these contracts had been awarded, if they were progressive with PPE Medpro, Mone and Barrowman had emphatically denied having thing to bash with it.

To emphasise the point, Page besides issued a property merchandise stating: “PPE Medpro was not awarded the declaration owed to institution oregon idiosyncratic connections to the authorities oregon Conservative party.”

Through the 2 years of scrutiny that person followed, the mode of Mone and Barrowman’s responses, astir each issued by lawyers acting connected their behalf, has been striking: a bid of fierce denials of “involvement” successful the company, oregon the process done which it secured its authorities contracts, coupled with ineligible threats.

PPE Medpro’s merchandise  catalogue from 2020.
PPE Medpro’s merchandise catalogue from 2020. Photograph: PPE Medpro

However the Guardian has chipped distant astatine the edifice of the denials. A two-year probe establishing the couple’s links to PPE Medpro culminates contiguous with recently leaked documents indicating that Mone and Barrowman secretly received tens of millions of pounds originating from the company’s profits, which were sent to the Isle of Man.

The documents authorities that Barrowman received astatine slightest £65m successful PPE Medpro profits, and transferred £29m to an offshore spot that, slope records indicate, benefited his woman and her big children.

Contacted astir the caller disclosures, a lawyer for Mone said: “There are a fig of reasons wherefore our lawsuit cannot remark connected these issues and she is nether nary work to bash so.” A lawyer who represents some Barrowman and PPE Medpro said that an ongoing probe constricted what they were capable to accidental connected these matters. He added: “For the clip being we are besides instructed to accidental that determination is overmuch inaccuracy successful the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a fig of them are wholly wrong.”

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A high-profile wedding and an disfigured spat

In the autumn of 2020, months aft PPE Medpro had secured the £203m Covid contracts, Mone was tussling with different considerations, including however to clasp a wedding successful the pandemic. In September 2020 she was forced to cancel a planned ceremonial successful the 13th-century chapel of St Mary Undercroft, successful the Palace of Westminster.

Instead, she switched to the the Isle of Man, wherever determination were fewer Covid restrictions astatine the time. Barrowman, her past fiance, has a sprawling U-shaped nine-bedroom location connected the island. While the mates were making wedding arrangements from this base, Barrowman seems to person besides been focusing connected moving profits gained from PPE Medpro astir assorted Isle of Man registered trusts, companies and accounts.

None of this was known then, contempt the attraction connected Mone. Particularly since receiving a peerage successful 2015, Mone had go a fixture successful the tabloids, which titled her “Baroness Bra”. The wedding successful November 2020 provided a level of glamour that was gleefully splashed crossed pages of papers mostly inactive acrophobic with the pandemic. Hello! mag filled its pages with pictures of the couple’s celebrations, including shots of the bride successful her decorator wedding formal and Jimmy Choo heels.

Mone, photographed successful  1999, attained personage  presumption    done  her bra and lingerie company, Ultimo
Mone, pictured successful 1999, attained personage presumption done her bra and lingerie company, Ultimo. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton Hibbert/Shutterstock

After the wedding, Mone took to Instagram to convey “everyone connected the Isle of Man for making our time truthful special”, including an opera vocalist and 5 unrecorded bands that had played during the weekend.

In December 2020, with the UK inactive successful tier 2 and 3 Covid restrictions, Mone received a mixed nationalist reaction to idyllic photos she posted online of the honeymoon astatine a five-star edifice successful the Maldives where, she tweeted, the mates were having “the astir fantastic time”.

Just a period later, the Guardian understands, the slope Barrowman utilized successful the Isle of Man, HSBC, was conducting an probe into the financier’s receipt and organisation of the millions from PPE Medpro’s profits, and – the Guardian understands – decided to driblet the mates arsenic customers. HSBC declined to comment.

Publicly, however, each was blissful done the summertime of 2021. Mone posted a bid of perfectly posed pictures, including ones connected the platform of the Lady M, with reflections connected her authorities of contentment. “Decide what makes you blessed and conscionable spell for it,” she wrote connected one.

In June 2021, Mone and Barrowman garnered wide publicity for a recently announced £18m concern task successful Aberdeen, neospace, which provided bureau abstraction tailored for post-Covid hybrid working. In August, astir a twelvemonth aft the mates are present known to person received a luck successful PPE Medpro profits, the Scottish Sun reported that Mone’s big children had altogether spent much than £3m buying caller properties successful Glasgow.

Michelle Mone astatine  neospace.
Michelle Mone astatine neospace. Photograph: Neo Space/PA

Just weeks aft her 50th birthday, however, the cracks started to look successful Mone and Barrowman’s cautiously cultivated nationalist image.

An disfigured spat a mates of years antecedently with a erstwhile person of Indian practice was revealed by the Guardian. Mone was accused of sending him an allegedly racist message, calling him “a discarded of a man’s achromatic skin”, aft a yacht clang disconnected Monaco. Mone was interviewed nether caution earlier this year, though successful August the Metropolitan constabulary confirmed that nary further enactment would beryllium taken.

The enigma astir PPE Medpro was astir to beryllium breached too. For astir 18 months the mates had perpetually dismissed, denied oregon played down immoderate links to the company.

However the Good Law Project, a not-for-profit run group, pursued a state of accusation petition that led to the accusation commissioner ordering the government to people the names of some the companies that had received contracts done the VIP lane and those who had referred them. When it did so, PPE Medpro was on the list, with the sanction of the VIP who initially referred the institution to the government: “Baroness Mone”.

Confronted successful November 2021 with the 1 inescapable information astatine that clip – that she had recommended the institution to her chap Tory adjacent Theodore Agnew, past a curate liable for procurement – Mone’s lawyer said: “Having taken the precise simple, solitary and little measurement of referring PPE Medpro arsenic a imaginable supplier to the bureau of Lord Agnew, our lawsuit did not bash thing further successful respect of PPE Medpro.”

Theodore Agnew successful  Downing Street successful  2020.
Theodore Agnew successful Downing Street successful 2020. Photograph: PjrNews/Alamy

The lawyer besides stated that Mone had not declared the institution connected her Lords registry of interests due to the fact that “she did not payment financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro successful immoderate capacity”.

The details of however Mone and Barrowman were linked to the institution came alternatively from cardinal accusation and documents provided by sources to the Guardian aft Mone’s referral of the institution became public.

In aboriginal January 2022, the Guardian revealed further details astir Mone’s links to the PPE Medpro contracts. Leaked files appeared to amusement that, contempt their changeless denials, Mone and Barrowman did look to person been secretly involved successful the company. By past it had besides emerged that the gowns supplied nether a £122m declaration had been rejected aft a method inspection and ne'er used.

A time aft the Guardian’s report, seemingly unconcerned by the revelations, Mone told her Twitter followers that she loved putting connected make-up adjacent erstwhile she had nary lawsuit to attend. But it was the past clip she shared her thoughts with her followers. On Instagram, too, her provender soon went quiet.

Then, successful March 2022, the Guardian revealed caller details of however Mone’s efforts had helped PPE Medpro unafraid its spot successful the VIP lane backmost successful May 2020.

Her archetypal attack to the authorities was to her chap Conservative Michael Gove, who was past a Cabinet Office minister. Neither enactment has responded to questions astir the quality of their narration and however Gove came to beryllium Mone’s archetypal constituent of interaction erstwhile offering to proviso PPE to the government. She did tweet approvingly astir him successful 2017, writing: “Brilliant nighttime with my colleagues astatine @UKHouseofLords Spent immoderate clip with @michaelgove I tin honestly say,he’s mega switched on&a bully guy.”

After her attack to Gove successful the weeks aft the UK’s archetypal lockdown, Mone contacted Agnew by backstage email connected 8 May 2020, copying successful Gove. She offered to proviso ample quantities of PPE look masks, the Guardian revealed, saying they could beryllium sourced done “my squad successful Hong Kong”.

Michael Gove speaking astatine  a Covid briefing successful  Downing Street successful  May 2020.
Michael Gove speaking astatine a Covid briefing successful Downing Street successful May 2020. Photograph: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown copyright/PA

Agnew passed the connection to civilian servants handling “priority” offers from politically connected people. PPE Medpro, the company, was not adjacent incorporated until 4 days later, connected 12 May 2020, but by the extremity of June, the authorities had contracted to wage it £203m of nationalist money.

A fewer weeks aft these latest revelations, successful precocious April 2022, Mone made a uncommon quality successful the House of Lords to ballot connected the government’s police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. The pursuing time constabulary cars turned up astatine her London and Isle of Man properties. The raids by the National Crime Agency (NCA), investigating imaginable fraud relating to PPE Medpro, were reported widely. Mone has not voted successful the Lords since.

The latest batch of documents reviewed by the Guardian authorities that successful October 2020, Barrowman transferred £29m originating from PPE Medpro profits to a spot acceptable up connected the Isle of Man. Records bespeak the spot was acceptable up to payment Mone and her 3 children, and that its slope relationship was opened the aforesaid period that she recommended PPE Medpro to Tory ministers.

Barrowman is understood to person told HSBC that his woman had “no involvement” successful the concern activities of PPE Medpro, and the onward transportation of its profits via his idiosyncratic slope relationship had been made “in his idiosyncratic capacity”.

Graphic showing organisation of PPE Medpro profits

These details volition adhd important unit connected the peer, who is facing an investigation by the Lords commissioner for standards into whether she breached the behaviour rules by failing to registry an involvement successful the company, and by lobbying for it to beryllium awarded authorities contracts. That probe continues. Mone has denied wrongdoing.

The NCA’s probe into imaginable fraud by PPE Medpro besides continues. So acold nary 1 has been arrested oregon charged. Lawyers for PPE Medpro person declined to comment.

A constabulary  raid conducted astatine  an code  successful  Douglas, Isle of Man.
A constabulary raid conducted astatine an code successful Douglas, Isle of Man. Photograph: Dave Kneale/The Guardian

Barrowman declined to reply questions astir whether wealth originating from PPE Medpro profits was utilized to wage for the Lady M yacht, the caller Glasgow properties, the wedding oregon the honeymoon. A lawyer for Mone and her children said: “We are advised determination is nary information successful what appears to beryllium wholly speculative ‘guesses’ connected your part.”

A twelvemonth agone Mone’s lawyer responded to a question astir whether wealth derived from PPE Medpro’s woody had funded the yacht. “The inference which you intelligibly privation to make is that our lawsuit has utilized her presumption to lobby the authorities to grant lucrative contracts to companies ‘connected’ to her and past spent the proceeds connected an costly yacht … That is not lone wholly untrue, but if repeated, is highly actionable arsenic it is grossly defamatory of our client.”

Meanwhile, the UK authorities is continuing its attempt to retrieve wealth from PPE Medpro successful narration to the unused gowns done a quality solution process. PPE Medpro insists the gowns purchased done the £122m declaration passed inspection, and that the institution – and, presumably, the beneficiaries of its profits – are entitled to support the money.

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