Government used exclusive WhatsApp group to give ‘VIP’ CEOs information about PPE deals
The government has used an exclusive WhatsApp group to brief CEOs of “VIP” companies on its PPE requirements, a court has heard.
A High Court judge today ordered Matt Hancock to hand over texts and WhatsApp messages on the lucrative Covid-19 contracts.
The Good Law Project has taken the government to the High Court to reveal details of the “VIP” fast lane for Covid contracts.
Evidence presented to the court today suggests that the government used a WhatsApp group of 200 company CEOs to “provide special communications (apparently unavailable to other vendors) on its forecast of PPE needs.”
The group’s existence was first revealed today, in a meeting agenda last April, disclosed to the court by the government.
It reads: “[Redacted] connect with [Redacted] and confirm the preferred channel for sharing communications with CEOs and CPOs (Chief Product Officers)
“Note: there is a WhatsApp group with [circa] 200 CEOs and it’s an informal way of communicating. There is also a separate channel to the CPOs) “
But government lawyers have so far not released any text or instant messages to the court.
Today the court ordered Mr Hancock to research and disclose “texts and WhatsApp messages for certain selected officials”.
The government was also ordered to pay the legal costs of the Good Law Project.
A spokesperson for the project said, “We believe we are in a position of not being able to question and fairly challenge the account given by the government in its evidence.”
Their lawyer raised concerns over the disclosure of information to a judge overseeing the litigation during a High Court online preliminary hearing today.
Jason Coppel QC told Madam Justice O’Farrell that there had been an “obvious lack of transparency” in Mr. Hancock’s conduct.
“The defendant made a late and only partial disclosure and declined to provide critical information on significant parts of the case against him,” Coppel said.
“The plaintiff was left in a situation where he could not question and fairly challenge the defendant’s account.”
He said: “There was an obvious lack of transparency in the conduct of the accused.”
Michael Bowsher QC, representing Mr. Hancock, disputed the Good Law Project’s allegations regarding the disclosure of information.
He said the Good Law Project wanted to “broaden” the scope of a disclosure exercise and “fish”.
“Having objected at length to the nature, scale and cost of the defendant’s disclosure exercise, the plaintiffs are now seeking – on a very spurious basis – to significantly broaden the scope of the disclosure exercise.” , he declared to the judge, in a writing. overview of the case.
“In so doing, they seek to dramatically increase the costs incurred by the defendant in fishing for additional gear, and risk derailing the trial schedule.”
The court heard last week that officials complained of “drowning” in demands from companies linked to politicians and senior officials wanting to “jump the queue” for lucrative PPE contracts.
Government staff have warned that the fast-track companies “are having an effect on remaining offers of aid,” according to emails revealed to the court.