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You will recall in our hearing in July Government admitted that some of Health Minister Lord Bethell’s dealings in relation to the controversial £85 million testing contracts to Abingdon Health had been conducted via WhatsApp or text message, and were held only on his private mobile phone.
We wrote to Government to ask for the messages to be retrieved and preserved.
We were stunned to receive a response from Government in which Health Minister Lord Bethell changes his story, again, on why he can’t hand over the texts and What’s App messages.
This is now the Minister’s third different version of events:
First, he claimed his phone was “lost” so he couldn’t hand it over.
Then, a few weeks later he abandoned his tale that the phone had been “lost” and provided an entirely new explanation as to why he was no longer using it, claiming the phone was “broken”.
Now, unbelievably, he says the phone isn’t lost. Or broken. He actually passed the phone on to a family member.
Blimey, which is it, Minister?
It’s far from clear that personal phones used extensively for Government business can safely be handed over to family members – one assumes children. What steps did Lord Bethell take, for example, to ensure that highly sensitive material couldn’t be retrieved by a specialist? And if he did delete it, did he ensure he’d passed on all the relevant information to the Department of Health before doing so?
And the extraordinary change of story doesn’t stop there.
Back in June, No 10 issued a blanket denial that Ministers ever used private email accounts for Government business. But now their own lawyers have confirmed searches of Lord Bethell’s three private email addresses using keywords relating to Covid contracts turned up hits of between 18,000 and 36,000 separate documents that may be relevant to the case.
How on earth do we move from a blanket denial by No 10 that Ministers were using private email accounts for Government business, to an admission that a single Minister may in fact have used his private email for tens of thousands of official emails? Do they ever tell the truth?
We are fighting to get our hands on these messages. We will be able to reveal further twists in this extraordinary tale soon.
This fight for truth is only possible thanks to the support of hundreds of you. If you are in a position to do so, you can donate to the legal challenge here.