One of the great white hopes for this country is the Good Law Project run by Jolyon Maugham. I post below the text of one of their emails updating us on the progress of their attempts to nail the Government down on the award of various contracts which appear to be designed to transfer public money into private pockets.
Lord Bethell is the Health Minister responsible for overseeing the award of Covid contracts. His time as Health Minister has been mired in controversy: from failing to declare meetings with firms that won huge Government contracts to using his personal email address to conduct Government business. Good Law Project has a particular interest in the role he played in the controversial award of lucrative contracts to Abingdon Health.
Last week in Court we argued against the Government’s attempts to apply blanket redactions to documents relating to the Abingdon Health contracts. We were successful: an important step towards transparency.
But the hearing uncovered something more alarming. In sworn evidence, Government admitted that some of Lord Bethell’s dealings with Abingdon had been conducted via WhatsApp or text message, and were held only on his private mobile phone. And if that was the case for Abingdon, why not other VIPs too?
What’s more, in December last year, Lord Bethell was told his mobile phone would be searched for documents relating to this case. Just weeks later, it seems, he ‘replaced’ his phone because, Government lawyers say, it was ‘broken’. They are not now sure it will be possible to retrieve WhatsApp and text messages.
Lord Bethell has overseen the award of billions of pounds of public contracts. Information revealing how these contracts came to be awarded may now be lost – or have been destroyed.
During the hearing, the Judge expressed alarm about Government’s failure to preserve evidence and insisted the ‘Order’ he made at the conclusion of the hearing refer to Government’s obligation to preserve relevant documents.
Our lawyers have written to Government to demand answers. When did Bethell learn his phone would be searched? When did he report it as broken? What attempts were made to save crucial information from his old phone? If not, why not?
This Government seems allergic to scrutiny: redacting some documents, hiding others from public scrutiny via ‘confidentiality rings’, permitting Ministers to award billions in public money via private as well as official channels, and failing to protect evidence from destruction.
We are taking action to close this accountability gap.
Jo Maugham – Good Law Project