Skip to main content
Latest 28 June 2024

Pandemic profiteers buy up luxury real estate worth £35m

By Max Colbert

What do you do with the millions you made selling the Government PPE? Companies who got fast-track access through the Tories’ unlawful VIP lane are investing in bricks and mortar.

Splurging on properties from the Alps to the Cotswolds, from city centres to seaside villages, PPE firms the Tories ushered through the unlawful VIP lane have been turning their winnings into real estate, buying up swanky holiday retreats, palatial homes, and luxurious multimillion pound mansions in prime locations. 

Good Law Project research shows that fast-tracked companies have spent at least £35m on property since the pandemic – companies who collectively supplied the government with £640m of PPE deemed unusable within the NHS.

One of these companies is Pestfix – the firm with £18,000 in the bank which landed contracts worth £347m after one of its directors met the Department of Health and Social Care’s chief commercial officer at a birthday party. Eighty-four million pounds worth of the medical face masks, gowns and gloves supplied by this pest control company were deemed unfit for use in the NHS, but Pestfix directors have recently bought themselves at least two houses worth a total of £1.7m.

Good Law Project is powered by people across the UKDonate now

The Pestfix post-pandemic property portfolio begins in the “picturesque coastal haven” of Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex – according to local estate agents “an ideal and idyllic place to call home for those seeking a harmonious blend of coastal beauty, community warmth, and cultural richness”. In November 2022, a company run by Pestfix director Daniel England bought a four-bedroom house in Goring for £1m. The house is listed on market websites as the most expensive property in the postcode.

The most recent addition to the Pestfix portfolio is just up the road in the “charming coastal hamlet” of East Preston – a village which boasts “a historical reputation for luxury coastline dwellings that exude opulence, glamour and grace”. According to the land registry, Pestfix’s parent company, Radiant Holdings Ltd, bought a detached house in East Preston for £712,000 in September 2023. The register notes that Joseph England and his partner Linda, a Pestfix shareholder, are currently living there.

Following a dispute with the health department over the £84.4m spent on PPE deemed unusable by the NHS, Pestfix agreed to pay back £71.6m as a “full and final settlement”.

But Pestfix aren’t alone. Zoe Ley teamed up with the former Conservative MP Brooks Newmark to lobby Matt Hancock and other Ministers on behalf of Worldlink Resources. The company bagged contracts to supply gowns and safety goggles worth £258m. Weeks later, Ley bought The Old Rectory in Berkshire, described on its website as “one of the most prestigious rectories in Britain”, for £7.25m. More than £106m worth of the equipment provided by Worldlink was completely useless in an NHS setting.

During the pandemic, Tory Peer Michelle Mone’s Scottish property portfolio swelled by £10 million, including nine townhouses and flats in Glasgow’s upmarket Park Circus. Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, also bought a six-bedroom townhouse in London’s exclusive Belgravia for £9.25m in September 2020. These properties were bought after Mone acted as an intermediary when PPE Medpro snagged contracts worth  over £200m to supply masks and gowns – £124m of which were completely useless. 

Other VIP lane property magnates include the former Tory councillor Steve Dechan, who landed deals worth £276m to supply gowns and face shields for his company, P14 Medical, despite the firm running at a six-figure loss at the time of the award.

At least £183m worth of PPE supplied by P14 has now been deemed unfit for use within the NHS, while Dechan and his wife paid themselves large salaries, donated £7,500 to the Tories and bought a £1.5m grade II-listed mansion in the Cotswolds, as well as a £250,000 holiday home in Cornwall and a house in Exeter for Dechan’s parents.

Gareth Hales, director of Unispace, snagged himself a $9.5m resort-style two-hectare estate in Dural, Australia. The five-bedroom residence boasts a tennis court and golf range, heated swimming pool, and a home theatre. Hales bought it without finance the day before it was supposed to go to live auction.

Gareth is the son of Bruce Hales, leader of the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian sect with longstanding links to the Conservative Party. Unispace, behind some £679m in PPE contracts, lobbied Michael Gove offering to sell PPE, beds, ventilators and other equipment. The prices charged by Unispace were in some instances as much as 5.1 times the average price for comparable items at the time.

Tim Horlick, CEO of Ayanda Capital, was also reported in early 2023 to have bought himself a house in the Alps, though he says this was unrelated to the profits made from Ayanda’s £252m contract to supply masks. The deal was brokered by Andrew Mills, who was an adviser at the same time both to the company and the government’s Board of Trade, even though the firm had no background in supplying PPE, or goods of any kind. Fifty million of the masks it provided – worth as much as £155m – were unusable by the NHS.

It’s not clear how much Horlick’s Alpine retreat is worth, but the total value of the properties bought by directors of these five VIP lane companies since the pandemic is at least £35m.

George Havenhand, senior researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said it was “completely unacceptable that politically connected companies made extraordinary profits from supplying unusable PPE during a national emergency – and that those associated are living the high life as the rest of the country faces a cost of living crisis.”

The government should “urgently ramp up the action that it’s taking against companies that provided inadequate PPE”, Havenhand continued, as well as increase transparency “about the progress and results of those efforts, and look at disqualifying directors who engaged in profiteering at taxpayers’ expense”.

Part of Campaign

Investigation: The VIP Files

View Campaign
Investigation: The VIP Files