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Latest 13 April 2024

Broker bought £7.25m manor house weeks after landing VIP lane contracts

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Two contracts worth £258m to supply gowns and safety goggles were enough for the owner of a dog food business to move into a stately home.

by Max Colbert

“Steeped in history and surrounded by beautiful gardens”, according to its slick website, The Old Rectory at Burghfield is “one of the most prestigious rectories in Britain”. The grounds “can be traced back to the 9th century”, the site adds, when Queen Emma of Normandy owned a manor house. But the estate’s recent history is much murkier. 

This £7.25m Berkshire stately home was bought in July 2020 with profits from contracts landed through the Tories’ unlawful VIP lane – contracts where more than 40% of the money was spent on PPE that the NHS felt unable to use.

In May 2020, socialite Zoe Appleyard Ley incorporated a new company, Life Partners Ltd, “to supply Covid-related products”. A former investment banker who founded a company selling premium dog food in 2015, Ley acted as, as she describes it, a “bridge” between Hong-Kong based Worldlink Resources and the Government.

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Ley teamed up with former Conservative MP Brooks Newmark to lobby Matt Hancock and other Ministers on behalf of Worldlink Resources. Within a month, the company bagged two huge contracts worth £258m to supply gowns and safety goggles, after being referred to the VIP lane by Lord Agnew – a Minister at the Cabinet Office in 2020. Payments were made from DHSC to Worldlink between May and September 2020. 

Ley set up another new company – Life Real Estate – on 17 July 2020. Ten days later, on 27 July, this company bought The Old Rectory for £7.25m.

The house is, or was until recently, available for private hire, boasting a “newly renovated holiday apartment” that sleeps six. Private tours of the garden currently cost £17.50 An email address posted on the dedicated Facebook page showed one associated with Zoe Ley’s luxury dog food business, Rockster. This was changed shortly after we approached Ley for comment. 

In its first year of trading, Life Partners recorded a staggering £17.6m profit. This dropped in 2022 to a loss of over £1.1m. This tax return also included a “charitable donation” of £4,499 – listed under “political donations” – to an unspecified entity.

The PPE from Wordlink Resources was supplied at between 1-1.5 times the average amount at the time and over £106m worth of PPE supplied by Worldlink Resources was not able to be used in a medical setting. Life Partners does not dispute this but offers no apology. Lawyers acting for Ley told Good Law Project that “the adequacy of the equipment provided by Worldlink Resources was a matter for the supplier and what was requested from them, not for our client’s company”. 

“Company profits included several income streams”, they continued, adding that reporting of the gains made by Life Partners, including those spent on The Old Rectory, “fit in with a general agenda that the media has adopted about PPE supply, and undue profits made off the back of taxpayers’ money – which of course was not the case here”.

Worldlink Resources declined to comment.


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Investigation: The VIP Files

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Investigation: The VIP Files