Rishi Sunak’s government has issued civil legal proceedings against PPE Medpro, a firm at the centre of a row over the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid crisis.
The company has been at the centre of a political storm, with peer Baroness Michelle Mone taking a leave of absence from the Lords following allegations linking her to PPE Medpro profits.
The government’s law suit relates to the contract price of medical gowns – reported to be around £122m – plus estimated storage and disposal costs, The Independent understands.
But the firm said the case over the supply of gowns would be “rigorously defended” and accused the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) of a “cynical attempt to recover money from suppliers” who acted in good faith.
A statement issued by the firm said: “PPE Medpro will demonstrate to the courts that we supplied our gowns to the correct specification, on time and at a highly competitive price.”
The company added: “The case will also show the utter incompetence of DHSC to correctly procure and specify PPE during the emergency procurement period. This will be the real legacy of the court case and it will be played out in the public arena for all to see.”
Reports – denied by Lady Mone – have suggested the peer may have profited from the firm winning contracts worth more than £200m to supply equipment after she recommended it to Tory ministers in the early days of the Covid outbreak.
The peer, who has “vowed to clear her name”, has come under pressure since The Guardian first reported that she is a beneficiary of an offshore trust which received £29m from PPE Medpro’s profits.
A Lords standards inquiry over allegations that she failed to properly declare an interest in the company has been put on hold while a police investigation takes place.
The lingerie tycoon, made a peer by David Cameron, has had the Tory whip suspended while she takes a leave of absence from parliament. And MPs have passed a motion to force the publication of texts and emails relating to the £200m Covid contracts.
On Monday, PPE Medpro claimed that the health department had sued over “contract technicalities” such as whether gowns were single or double-bagged because it had “vastly over-ordered” the protective equipment.
The firm said it had made “numerous attempts at mediation with DHSC” but “they didn’t want to settle” out of court.
The PPE Medpro statement said it had supplied DHSC with 25 million sterile gowns over a two month period, July through to end of August 2020. The company said the gowns were manufactured to the specifications set out in the contract, and delivered on time.
But by the end of 2020 “it was clear that DHSC has vastly over ordered and held five years supply of PPE across the seven major categories including gowns”, the company claimed.
“Consultants were then brought in to pick over all the contracts and fight product not on quality but on contract technicalities that were never envisaged at the time of contract,” PPE Medpro stated.
“Too many gowns and other PPE items that will never enter the supply chain … Most of this product will be incinerated or given away,” the company added.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we have commenced legal proceedings in the High Court against PPE Medpro Limited for breach of contract regarding gowns delivered under a contract dated June 26 2020.
“We do not comment on matters that are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings,” the government statement added.